CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Pledging to support legislation that will create jobs in West Virginia and help the state’s students and seniors, the Democratic Caucus of the West Virginia House of Delegates announced its priorities for the upcoming legislative session Tuesday, Jan. 9, at the state Capitol.
“It is imperative that we focus on legislation that will actually do some good in West Virginia instead of the window dressing that the majority party has been focused on the last few years,” said House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison. “Continually pursuing socially divisive issues is not helping West Virginia become an educated and prosperous state.”
“I don’t recall seeing in the recently released West Virginia Forward report any mention of socially divisive issues as being even a small part of the solution to any of the state’s problems,” Miley said. “We most focus on improving the lives of West Virginia citizens and not continue to engage in corporate giveaways with the pipedream that someday West Virginians will benefit.
The Democratic Caucus issued the following statements:
According to the Democrats, first and foremost, the West Virginia Legislature should be working to create jobs: Increased funding for tourism and economic development is vital to helping create new jobs in West Virginia.
“Tourism has been underfunded for years,” Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, said. “With a 7:1 return on investment for each dollar invested in tourism, as Governor Justice has claimed, the Legislature has no reason not to invest in our state’s incredible tourism industry. We also need to increase funding for economic development to help the Development Office provide the assets needed to aggressively pursue businesses and effectively compete with other states for them.
In 2017, the Legislature discussed various changes to personal income tax and ultimately exempted military retirement from state income tax. A large part of the discussion on income tax reform included the creation of an exemption for West Virginia seniors receiving Social Security benefits. House Democrats support exempting Social Security benefits from personal income tax.
“This has been an initiative advanced by the House Democratic Caucus the last few years, as we recognize the benefit that this tax break will have for one of our state’s most vulnerable populations,” Delegate Jason Barrett (D-Berkeley) said. “We will continue pushing this agenda item until the Republican majority recognizes the benefit that this will have on West Virginia senior citizens. Our state’s seniors are careening into poverty, and we need to be their voice and champions at the statehouse.”
The House Democratic Caucus also recognizes the importance of education and having an educated workforce in West Virginia to attract business to the state.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, and Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, have both been working on legislation to expand access to higher education, especially community and technical education, and make it more affordable for students.
“As the Democratic Party created the PROMISE Scholarship program, we believe it is past time to expand it,” Delegate Sponaugle said. “The time has come to truly invest in West Virginia’s greatest resource, our children. This investment should not be based on the economic class of a child’s family, but should benefit all families in our great state.”
Economic Growth and Protecting West Virginians
Democrats also pledge to support and encourage business growth, but not at the expense of West Virginia residents. Republicans have recently announced their intention to eliminate the business inventory tax. However, without a guaranteed revenue stream to replace this income, local governments and public schools across the state will lose millions of dollars in vital funding.
“While this is an unpopular tax, it is unfortunately not a revenue stream that the State of West Virginia can afford to remove at this time,” said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton. “The reality is that the state has had one good budget month, and this business property tax is one of the more stable sources of revenue for our state.”
“While we do recognize that this tax may be a burden on small businesses, we need to be cautious and responsible in repealing it,” Boggs said. “Replacing this business tax with higher property or other taxes on West Virginia residents is just not acceptable. We cannot give big business a tax break on the backs of West Virginians.
Republican legislators and Republican Governor Jim Justice have been negotiating forced pooling legislation prior to the start of the legislative session. Democrats continue to stand united against any taking of private property by rich, out-of-state corporations.
“The role of government should not include endorsed property theft,” Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said. “House Democrats will stand strong against any version of forced pooling legislation that forcibly takes property from West Virginia residents.