By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
August 9, 2023
The legislature just completed a three-day special session. It was…special.
If you haven’t heard about what happened, you aren’t alone. And it wouldn’t be your fault. Legislators were called into special session at 3:30pm on Sunday, given 44 bills with spending of around $700 million, and asked to begin voting at 4pm.
With the Governor, Senate, and House all in the same party, you might expect them to be on the same page and able to pass those bills by working together behind the scenes. Unfortunately for our state, you would be wrong.
While leadership was familiar with the bills, most legislators were seeing them for the first time. Tempers flared, divisions within the ruling Republican party deepened, and a number of the proposed bills died in the process.
Here is a list of some noteworthy bills that passed.
CAR TAX. Taxpayers can now get a credit for their full car tax bill this year, not just the last six months as the law previously allowed. Practically, this means you can pay your full bill now and still access the tax credit next year. According to assessors and sheriffs I’ve spoken with, citizens are awfully confused about this tax credit process for the car tax. Legislators say this will fix it.
CORRECTIONS. $25 million in pay raises for corrections officers. We’ve been in a state of emergency due to understaffing in jails for a year now. Critics say this pay raise is a drop in the bucket and doesn’t do anything for facilities. In fact, on the same day this bill passed a group of citizens sued the state and Governor Justice for conditions in the state’s jails.
GOVERNOR’S FUNDS. $85 million for Governor Justice to spend as he chooses with no strings attached.
CYBERSECURITY CENTER. $45 million for a new cybersecurity center at Marshall University.
NEW STATE PARK IN SUMMERSVILLE. Designating Summersville Lake as the state’s 36th state park. It will be a public-private partnership with private companies offering new outdoor recreational activities on the lake for a fee to users.
NEW AIRPORT HANGAR. $25 million for a new hangar at the Clarksburg Airport for an aviation maintenance program run by Pierpont Community & Technical College.
FIRE DEPT FUNDING. After the governor proposed one-time funding of $12 million to fire departments, the Senate changed that to dedicated funding from general revenue funds next year. This caused great consternation among House Republicans, who did not want to support any raise in taxes. After debate, 26 House Republicans excused themselves from the chamber to vote “absent” and the bill passed. I imagine our first responders will memorize the list of legislators who refused to vote.
SEMIQUINCENTENNIAL. $4 million for America’s semiquincentennial (250 years) celebrations at the Cultural Center in 2026.
ROADS. $150 million for paving projects across the state.
STATE POLICE. $1 million for security systems at the academy.
VETERANS. $1 million for the new veteran’s nursing home in Beckley.
MERCER COUNTY TAX. The legislature voted to allow Mercer County to impose a new tax for The Ridges Economic Opportunity Development District, an area of 390 acres.
FAILED BILLS. Nine of the 44 bills failed. They include: additional funds for the governor’s office, funding for Gamechangers substance use program, and education funding. Also, a bill allowing the Department of Environmental Protection to regulate some radioactive materials failed.
HORNBUCKLE. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell) was chosen to be the new House Minority Leader. He is the first black man to hold the position in our state’s history. I got to know Sean well during my time in the Charleston, and he will excel in this position. He is well-respected in the building for his authenticity and passion.
ABSENCES. A number of legislators missed the special session including Senators Grady & Martin and Delegates Bridges, Longanacre, Martin, & Phillips.
The legislature has been spending like it’s going out of style over the last year. Our manufactured surpluses are starting to dry up, with revenues down in this new fiscal year. I hope they can find a way to work together in the future, for the good of us all.
That is the view from the back pew. May God bless you.
Stephen Baldwin is the former Senate Minority Leader and a Presbyterian pastor. He is also the publisher of RealWV. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.