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Three Senate bills have been advanced to second reading

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The West Virginia Legislature gaveled into special session Thursday, taking up increasing classroom teachers salaries along with roads measures.

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael talks with the media during the first day of the West Virginia Legislature’s special session in Charleston.
(West Virginia Legislative photo)

The Senate introduced three bills — SB 1001, raising classroom teachers’ salaries; SB 1002, increasing the DMV fees and motor fuel tax; and SB 1003, relating generally to the West Virginia Parkways Authority. All were advanced to second reading. After reading bills for the first time, the Senate adjourned until Friday at 11 a.m.

President Mitch Carmichael said the Senate did not send the bills to committee, saying he believes legislators can work through them very quickly.

“We wanted everyone to have a chance to look at them,” he said. “We knew we were going to be here tomorrow anyway so there was no reason to suspend the rules and send them today. Tomorrow, we are looking forward to acting quickly on those unless there is something that comes off track.”

Carmichael said lawmakers were still waiting on a budget bill. He said there are differences in the bill than what the Senate agreed to in the areas of energy as well as the tax rates. He said he will continue to look at those.

The governor’s press secretary Grant Herring previously said revenue measures are done first and then the budget bill.

Carmichael said the plan is only about 1 percent more than the previous year.

“It contains the growth of government,” he said, later adding, “It’s exciting and transformational to the state of West Virginia. I am enthusiastic to get it done.”

The governor’s first measures call for reducing the personal income tax starting Jan. 1, 2018, and providing for a phase-out of the tax. The measure also specifies triggering events.

“The main reason we are here is tax reform,” Carmichael said. “The governor agreed with the Senate’s position on cutting taxes in West Virginia.”

Carmichael said the income tax reduction is heavily weighted, saying it amounts to a 40 percent reduction to lower-income families and about 10 percent to high incomes.

It also would exempt military retirees from personal income tax, increase the corporate net income tax, increase the consumer sales tax and create a temporary “wealthy West Virginian tax” on people making more than $300,000.

The Senate had not received the tax reform bill as of the time the floor session ended. However, it did receive it later Thursday and the plan is to introduce it Friday.

Carmichael said he thinks the bill will be supported in the Senate.

“I believe the tax reform measure will come through the Senate with at least 30 votes unless something is fundamentally different in that bill.”

The measure would impose a graduated rate of severance tax on the production of coal and natural gas. It also would increase the rate of the tax credit for rehabilitating historical structures.

Carmichael said the West Virginia Coal Association and others were having input on that measure late in the process.

Other measures will increase the gas tax and DMV fees, implement a 2 percent raise for classroom teachers and a bill to pay expenses for the extraordinary session.

Another bill, relating to the West Virginia Parkways Authority, includes the governor’s EZ-Pass plan. The governor previously said the EZ-Pass plan would be an $8 a year plan for all West Virginians but it would not be mandatory.

He also previously mentioned increasing turnpike fees from $2 to $4 with the difference going toward bonding. Carmichael said the goal is to bring money into the budget to backfill in other areas and said it will spur economic growth.

“What we all have to recognize is the state has the lowest workforce participation. We have to create jobs and opportunity,” Carmichael said. “That’s what this bill the governor is introducing does in conjunction with the Republican-led Senate.”

House leadership previously opposed the governor’s plan saying in a previous news release that the House majority was closed out of the process. House leadership issued a news release Thursday saying the start of the special session was “bungled.” They said the bills were not ready for consideration.

Carmichael said he hadn’t seen the comments in the news release but he didn’t feel the start of the session had been bungled.

“The House said we bungled the start of the process,” he said. “They were right in the sense that it wasn’t all together in a nice clean package at the start of it. Does it mean we can’t get it through the process? No, we will get it through.”

In a series of news releases last week, other members of the House also expressed concern over parts of the proposals, including raising the sales tax and tiering the severance tax.

Carmichael said, “People say you can’t get it through the House. This is a plan the Republican-led Senate has had from the start. It’s not something we passed at the end of the day. … The governor came to our position on it. It is our responsibility to vote on this. Just because someone has a different opinion — I’m I’m anxious to see what the House will do. …It’s an awesome, great optimistic and bright plan for West Virginia. I hope they recognize that.”

Wednesday night, the governor’s office tweeted a copy of an email sent to members of the House Republican Caucus, taking issue with the statements that Justice has never met with House leadership in these negotiations.

“I’m new to the political process,” the email began. “I am not throwing anyone under the bus, but it’s important that you know the absolute facts. I, my Chief of Staff, and my team have welcomed any and all meetings with the Speaker, or any House or Senate Democrat or Republican to compromise on budget issues.”

The email went on to say that the speaker has his personal cell phone number and that he has had multiple breakfasts at the governor’s mansion and in his office with (House Speaker Tim) Armstead and his leadership team, saying he continues to welcome that discussion.

“That said, here’s what is at stake tomorrow — we’re going to fix the budget crisis by reforming the tax code, protect West Virginians from Draconian cuts, and create 48,000 new jobs — with almost no increase in state spending over last year,” the email said. “It’s not Democrat, it’s not Republican, it’s a plan for West Virginia and I know each of you wants what’s best for the state.”

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