Legislature wraps up week two of 2023 session; debate escalates over proposed tax cuts

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Lawmakers were once again busy in Charleston, as they closed the book on the first full week of the 2023 legislative session. While guns on college campuses and restricting taxpayer access to public information were among the more hotly contested issues, it was the governor’s proposed tax cut which has seemingly left the legislature as a house divided. 

As previously reported by RealWV, as well as numerous other media outlets, Gov. Justice’s personal income tax (PIT) reduction plan would lower state income tax rates by 30% this year, followed by a 10% reduction each year for the next two years. Introduced as HB 2526, the House of Delegates voted 95 to 2 in favor of Justice’s plan on Thursday, and moved quickly to advance the bill to the Senate. 

“It’s a very safe plan,” Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley – who serves as Vice-chair of the House Finance Committee – said after passage. “We’re doing this with no tax-shifting, which is important.”

Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley.

However, the tax-cut proposal – which Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy referred to as a “generational opportunity” – is wholly unpopular within the State Senate. Sen. Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, during Tuesday’s meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, referred to the governor’s plan as “phony math.” Although Finance Committee Chair Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, has expressed intentions to the contrary, it remains to be seen if he will choose to take the bill up in committee. 

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

Justice applauded the efforts of the House of Delegates to move HB 2526  through so quickly, saying, “It’s time to reward all the great West Virginians who have stayed the course.” Regarding the cold response from the Senate, Justice simply offered his encouragement to members in the hopes that they will “expediently vote in favor as well.”

On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary advanced their committee substitute for SB 53. If signed into law, the bill would require certain individuals to submit to DNA testing upon arrest. On Wednesday, the House Education Committee heard testimony from State Superintendent of Schools David Roach regarding HB 2003 – designed to “help students achieve grade level literacy and numeracy by the end of third grade.” And on Thursday, the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee advanced SB 269, which seeks to increase the dental care coverage limit for Medicaid recipients. 

Senate Judiciary, on Wednesday, voted to adopt their committee substitute for SB 10, the Campus Defense Act – also known as “Campus Carry.” If made law, this bill would, “allow persons who are holders of concealed handgun permits to carry concealed on the campuses of the state’s institutions of higher education.”

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was the only Senate-member who voiced opposition to the bill, saying, “I just think it’s insane to put this into code that it’s okay to carry guns on college campuses.” 

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion.

And finally on Friday, the Senate Workforce Committee heard testimony from WV Press Association Executive Director Don Smith regarding SB 21, which seeks to make certain documents containing wage-records confidential. 

“As a rule, the Press Association opposes government documents and public records being made confidential,” Smith said. Smith’s arguments, however, did not persuade the Workforce Committee, as members voted to move the bill forward to the Senate’s Committee on Finance. 

The RealWV will provide continual legislative updates throughout the 2023 Regular Session.

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