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Legislature to continue belt-tightening, legal reform


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Republican-controlled West Virginia Legislature will keep trying to rein in state spending and continue to work on legal reforms to make the state more attractive to business when lawmakers reconvene in January, members of the state Chamber of Commerce were told.

Mike Hall, chief of staff for Gov. Jim Justice, said the governor hopes to work closely with the Legislature and get and early start working out the budget before the general legislative session begins in January.
(State Journal photo by Rusty Marks)

A preview of what to expect during the upcoming legislative session was the final presentation at the Chamber of Commerce’s three-day annual Meeting and Business Summit at The Greenbrier, which ended Sept. 1.

The legislative agenda was laid out in a panel discussion featuring state Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee; Del. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, who chairs the House Finance Committee; and Mike Hall, new chief of staff for Gov. Jim Justice.

From the standpoint of the Judiciary Committee, Trump said the Senate will continue work begun in 2014 to reform the state’s legal landscape to make the court system more predictable and bring West Virginia business law more in line with legal codes in other states.

Trump also said the Legislature has formed a Joint Committee on Oil and Gas Regulation that plans to meet before January in hopes of having model legislation ready before the regular session begins.

Trump said lawmakers hope to do away with business inventory taxes, which business owners have long complained about.

Hall, former Senate finance chairman, said his biggest emphasis for the upcoming legislative session will be to open up lines of communication between the governor’s office and the Legislature.

“We just don’t want to get in a train wreck this year in March or April,” Hall said.

He said the biggest potential threat to the state’s budget will be uncertainty over what the federal government will do about Medicaid funding, which President Donald Trump and many Republican members of Congress have wanted to slash.

Although lawmakers acknowledge that coal severance revenue is beginning to pick up, West Virginia is coming off several years of sweeping budget cuts.

Nelson said the state budget is more than $12 billion, but the $4.2 billion general revenue budget is all the Legislature really has control over.

“Between education and DHHR, that’s 82 percent of our general revenue budget,” Nelson said.

With lean times expected to continue, Nelson said lawmakers will likely have to continue working on government efficiency and streamlining government.

“We’ve got to talk about privatization,” he said.

It may also be time to continue consolidation and regionalization of government functions, Nelson said.

“Do we need 55 county governments?” Nelson asked. “Can we incentivize cities to consolidate, cities and counties? Yes we can.”

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