By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
March 1, 2023
With 10 days to go in this legislative session, we’ve learned several important lessons about the state of our state.
One, money still runs the show. Despite broken personal relationships, the House, Senate, and Governor compromised on the largest tax cut in state history…so they can say, “We passed the largest tax cut in state history.” Unless there’s a revolt in the House, a bill cutting the income tax, car tax, equipment/inventory/machinery tax, and more will pass with near-unanimous support. The Koch Brothers via Americans for Prosperity bought the legislature in the last few elections, and they are getting the tax cut they wanted. It will disproportionately help the wealthy, but it will provide tax relief to everyone. The overall cost is astronomical. And may prove to be too high to sustain once federal funds and budget surpluses disappear.
Two, don’t trust a politician. You’ll remember that the teacher’s strikes were never about pay; they were about benefits. Politicians raised salaries for teachers and all public employees, but they never solved the benefits problem. The result is that the whole system could crash in the next 5-10 years without structural change. So now the Republican House, Republican Senate, and Republican Governor, who all promised to fix the problems with PEIA, are now raising premiums by about 20% on average. They say if they don’t act, the system will collapse. Where have they been for the last decade? They’ve let the system implode and now want to take credit for saving it by raising premiums on workers. And don’t worry, they say, we’re giving you a raise to offset the rising benefit costs. So never, ever trust a politician.
Three, the moderates are gone. We learned this clearly in the “campus carry” and “religious freedom” votes. Good people can disagree about these policy matters. They are complex issues. In years past, a coalition of moderates successfully improved these bills or voted them down. This year, those same moderates voted for the same bills they previously fought. Why? Because they see the political winds moving further and further right, and they don’t want to lose their next election. For the “religious freedom” bill, I hear that moderates made a deal to vote for it or it would be taken to committee and made even worse. The moderates hold no sway in Charleston right now. The fringes run the show. The tail is wagging the dog.
Four, “do as I say, not as I do.” Politics is a performance. If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear a producer off-screen say, “Lights, camera, action!” For example, Governor Justice gave a fiery speech signing the campus carry bill saying “completely gun-free areas” are more susceptible to shootings. Yet, the two places he spends much of his time, the capitol and The Greenbrier, do not allow guns. Or take Senate Republicans, who championed a bill to provide “religious freedom” so folks can worship free from interference. Yet, they schedule interim meetings on Sundays making their own members choose between going to worship or going to the capitol every single month. Perhaps I am expecting too much of our leaders, hoping they will practice what they preach. But make no mistake–what you see in front of the cameras is usually a scripted performance. For goodness sake, the WV Republican Party released a long statement in support of the “religious freedom” bill five minutes after it passed the Senate when no one supposedly knew it was going to be voted upon.
Five, don’t stop believing. Everywhere I go, people lament the state of the state. But they keep trucking. They keep working. They keep serving. They keep loving. My faith in the people of West Virginia remains as strong as ever. The sun will keep shining, just like our people do (to borrow from President Kennedy).
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That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.