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BACK PEW: A $500 million question looms over the legislature’s final week

March 2, 2024

One week of the current legislative session remains. Here are a few looming issues to keep an eye on over the last seven days. 

$500 MILLION QUESTION. A $500 million question looms over the legislature, governor’s office, and the future. This week, state officials disclosed that the federal government may “clawback” nearly $500 million in funds that were sent to our state for education but used for other purposes. In other words, we owe the feds. The governor’s office says they’re in negotiations over the debt. 

STATE BUDGET. The one and only thing the legislature is required to do each year is pass a budget. The federal clawback complicates that. Mightily. Officials say they don’t yet know if we will have to send the full amount or a lesser amount back to DC, making it difficult to pass a budget. Several lawmakers hinted at a May special session to settle the matter this week. But I don’t see any way around them having to set aside the money right now as if they will have to pay it back this year. Which means…

PAYRAISES & TAX CUTS. While the House passed payraises for educators and troopers (to offset increased insurance costs), those are in jeopardy. Similarly, proposed additional tax breaks may have to wait until the debt is paid or resolved. 

DEATH PENALTY. Despite lots of bravado about reinstating the death penalty this session, it never materialized. 

CHILD CARE. Leaders said they would prioritize child care this session. Well, they didn’t. Not a single child care bill passed either the House or Senate. 

UNEMPLOYMENT.  Yet again this year, Senate Republicans rammed through a cut to unemployment, though it was milder than they planned. It cuts the overall amount of benefits and the number of weeks workers are eligible. The House refused to take it up in past years, so we will keep an eye on whether they take up this milder version this year. 

WV PUBLIC BROADCASTING. An important story from reporter Steve Adams this week detailed yet another attempted political takeover of WV Public Broadcasting. Several years ago, a group of lobbyists were appointed to the board intent on making big changes. Now, the Curator for the Department of Arts, Culture, & History wants to not only be named a Cabinet Secretary, but he also wants to be placed in charge of WVPB. Should political appointees be running state media? I think it’s a dangerous line which our officials seem ready to cross. 

ADS IN GOVERNOR’S RACE. Have you seen all these TV ads in the governor’s race? You’d think West Virginia was overrun with illegal immigrants and transgender athletes. That’s all our candidates for governor talk about. No mention of schools, foster kids, infrastructure, jobs, or any of the real problems our state faces. I long for the day when our leaders show the best in us and summon forth our better angels. 

That’s the view from the back pew. May God bless each and every one of you! 

Stephen Baldwin is a Presbyterian minister and the former Senate Minority Leader from Greenbrier County. He is the publisher of The Real WV.

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