By Matthew Young, RealWV
The 2023 Legislative Session was nothing if not memorable. While it will ultimately be up to the residents of West Virginia to judge the effectiveness of the 86th Legislature, lawmakers themselves are not without opinion. Now, less than a week removed from the final gavel in the House Chamber, Todd Longanacre, one of Greenbrier County’s two Republican delegates, spoke with RealWV about both the successes and frustrations of his 60 days in Charleston.
Longanacre began by discussing HB 2008. One of 20 pieces of legislation proposed by Longanacre, (the only one making it to a floor vote) HB 2008 seeks to prohibit municipalities in West Virginia from declaring themselves to be “sanctuary cities.”
“One of the big things our nation is struggling with right now is illegal immigration,” Longanacre said. “People are not coming just from Mexico, they are coming from over 120 countries. These folks are not staying in Arizona, Texas and California – they’re being distributed all across the nation.”
“As that ‘shining city on a hill’ that President Reagan liked to call America, we are that destination for so many impoverished people around the world – people who are oppressed and looking for a second chance at a better life,” Longanacre continued.
Longanacre explained that he understands the desire many people have to come to the United States, as his wife, herself an immigrant, lawfully obtained American citizenship.
“My wife loves America so much that she lived on the border for 20 years and watched people cross illegally almost every day,” Longanacre said. “I asked her once, ‘How come that thought never crossed your mind?’”
“She said a very simple thing to me,” Longanacre noted, “Because she loves and respects America, she’s not going to thumb her nose at our immigration laws.”
According to Longanacre, southern border security has become ineffective, and northern border enforcement is essentially non-existent.
“There have been 4.2 million known border crossings since January 2021,” Longancre added. “And the people who are here legally are frustrated. They went through the proper channels and did the proper paperwork. They waited in line, they went to the meetings, they got their vaccinations and their medical screenings. They’re trying to do it the right way, and they’re frustrated that several million are coming the illegal route. And the 4.2 million is just what we know about.”
Longanacre said that this number of illegal immigrants puts an unsustainable drain on municipal resources. In addition to prohibiting the declaration of “sanctuary city” status, HB 2008 also requires local government and law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.
“They (illegal immigrants) are already here,” Longanacre said. “They’re in West Virginia. Nobody knows the numbers. Rumors are that several flights have come into Kanawha County already, and we don’t know where they’re going.”
“I would like to think that my bill is forethinking-legislation to get us ahead of the curve before it gets really bad,” Longanacre added. “I want to encourage legal immigration, and discourage illegal immigration. That’s where I was going with this.”
The bill was passed in the House of Delegates on Feb. 3 by a vote of 87 to six, and in the Senate on March 11 by a vote of 31 to one. HB 2008 now awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s approval or rejection.
Regarding the entirety of work completed this legislative session, Longanacre said, “We got some real good stuff done. We got some good education legislation, and, of course, we got the income tax reduction, although it wasn’t as big as I would have hoped for.”
“There was a lot of good stuff that I was happy about,” Longanacre continued. “But at the same time, there was so much that frustrated me. The party that I thought was supposed to be not the ‘tax and spend party’ – the budget increased. It still, pretty much, can be regarded as a flat budget because we’re still taking in a larger surplus than we expected, but my goal was to give that surplus back to those who we got it from; chiefly, some of the folks in the oil and gas and coal industries through the severance taxes, and the rest to our business people who are already here in the state.”
“Instead of another $4 billion budget, we just passed a $4.8 billion budget,” Longanacre added. “We went up about $800 million.”
Additionally, Longanacre noted his disagreement with using the budget surplus to “subsidize out-of-state businesses.”
“Instead of free grants to these people to entice them to come to West Virginia, I would be okay with incentivizing businesses with some zero-interest loans that they have to pay back over time,” Longanacre added.
The biggest example this year of such a subsidy to an out-of-state business is that of the nearly $300 million that both the legislature and Gov. Justice authorized to Massachusetts-based Form Energy. Longanacre was one of 25 no-votes in the House of Delegates. Greenbrier County’s three other Republican representatives, including Del. Mike Honaker, and senators Jack David Woodrum and Vince Deeds, all voted in favor of the Form Energy subsidy.
“I was a no-vote on a lot of stuff,” Longanacre said. “Myself and about 24 other Republicans tried to hold the ground on additional spending, but we were unsuccessful. I just don’t think it’s right to gamble and risk taxpayer’s money in this way.”
“Somebody asked me, ‘Well, what if that plant (Form Energy) was coming to Greenbrier County?’” Longancre added. “Quite frankly I would have felt the same way. You’re punishing West Virginia businesses that are already here by taxing them too much, and then giving that money to a non-West Virginia business in the hopes that they keep their end of the bargain.”
Longanacre was equally frustrated by the legislative action regarding the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), voting no on that bill as well. SB 268, which had overwhelming Republican support in both the House and the Senate, increases the premiums of policy holders by as much as 26%.
“I think PEIA is going to leave our state employees walking on eggshells again for another year or two,” Longanacre said. “It just puts the program on life-support. Somebody used the phrase ’kicking the can down the road.’ I absolutely believe that’s what we did, and I didn’t want to have any part of it.”
“I want to either fix it (PEIA) permanently, or do away with it entirely,” Longanacre added. “If we could stop spending this money on these out-of-state companies, think of the significant pay increases we could give to our critical state employees. Then we could just get out of the insurance business altogether, and let them shop on the free market for the plan that best fits their family.”
“State government does not need to be in the health insurance business,” Longanacre noted. “It cannot work. There’s too much attrition, too many politicians coming and going, and too many bureaucrats moving in and out of positions. It just can’t work.”
While Longanacre believes that pay raises are certainly in order for educators, law enforcement, and many other essential state employees, he does not believe the legislature was deserving of the salary increase they voted last week to grant themselves.
“There’s another bill that I didn’t vote for – they (legislators) voted to give themselves a raise,” Longanacre said. “I was a no-vote, number one, because I personally felt like I don’t deserve it, because so many things that I wanted to get done I couldn’t.”
“Number two, I feel like this is a service,” Longanacre noted. “This is a service to my community. I should not be there to enrich myself. I want it to be uncomfortable, and I don’t mind losing money doing it.”
“If you make politics comfortable, then politicians will stay in it forever,” Longanacre added. “That’s why I don’t want it to be comfortable, and that’s why I was a no-vote on that pay raise.”
Longanacre will be back in Charleston when the legislature reconvenes for their Interim Session this spring.