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THE BACK PEW: Sparks fly at halftime

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

February 8, 2023

It’s officially halftime under the dome! This is day 30 of the 60-day legislative session. And it began with a bang this morning! 

COMPETING TAX CUT PLANS. Senate Republicans and Democrats joined together in a press conference to present their tax cut plan. The main parts are: 15% income tax reduction, 100% car tax credit, homestead property tax repeal for 90-100% disabled veterans, and a 50% equipment and inventory tax reduction for businesses. Total cost? Around $600 million. They suspended the rules and passed the bill today by a vote of 33-0.

Personally, I prefer the Senate tax cut. It contains several tax reductions I’ve advocated for the last few years. Particularly for veterans and vehicles. I’m still concerned about the overall price tag doing it all at one time, but it’s a more reasonable approach.

This Senate plan comes in response to a straight 50% income tax reduction from Governor Justice and the House. Total cost? Around $1.2 billion. 

The Senate believes their tax cut is more fiscally responsible and will directly benefit those who need it most, stimulating more economic growth. The House maintains their tax cut is larger and simpler, stimulating population and economic growth.  

The billion dollar question is…who will budge? Negotiations on a compromise have already begun. Will they produce something in the middle? Or will the House capitulate to the Senate and leave the governor on his own? 

VETERANS DISCOUNTS. I was happy to see a bill I introduced a few years ago pass out of committee this week and head to the floor for a final vote. SB283 provides a discount system for veterans visiting our state parks. What a wonderful way to thank our veterans and stimulate tourism and economic growth! 

OFFICE OF DRUG CONTROL POLICY. Similarly, it’s good to see HB3306 moving, which builds upon my bill from last year to elevate the Office of Drug Control Policy. We need one person in charge of drug control policy in order to work together efficiently and effectively. (Why is it that so many Republicans are suddenly putting their names on my bills and speaking in favor of them? I’m glad to see good policy moving forward, no matter how.) I also expect to see this issue become part of the DHHR reorganization debate, so stay tuned. The best case scenario is for a Secretary of Recovery, who sits on the governor’s cabinet and has the full weight of that authority. 

DARK MONEY. SB508 and SB516, two bills relaxing campaign finance reporting standards, both passed the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday along party lines. The law currently requires lobbying groups to disclose any donations over $25 which they receive for political activities. SB508 relaxes that to $1,000, so donations up to $1,000 are done in secret. Similarly, current law requires membership organization political action committees to disclose any donors who give them more than $250. SB516 relaxes that to $1,000, so donations up to $1,000 are given in secret. As the last election proved, with millions in dark money expenditures from shadowy political groups, the last thing we need in politics is more dark money with no public records. Very disappointing development in Senate Judiciary. 

POLL OF YOUNG PEOPLE. A fascinating poll was released last week, detailing what young West Virginians think about our politics. Unsurprisingly, they are not impressed. 76%  said they are concerned that legislators “are spending too much time and attention on divisive social issues like abortion, school prayer, critical race theory, gay marriage and the like.” 50% said they are likely to leave West Virginia within the next five years. Why are they leaving? Better jobs elsewhere and the direction of state politics were the top two reasons. 91% said that “government should focus on lifting people up and improving opportunities for everyone and not on telling people what they can and cannot do in their own lives.” And before anyone complains that the survey was skewed, 39% of respondents self-identified as Republicans, 23% as Democrats, and 39% as Independents. Our young people are voting with their feet. When will we start listening to them?  

Stay tuned to The Real WV for the latest. We will do our best to provide you real news via the articles and real insight via the editorials. 

That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.


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