By JANET METZNER
The Weirton Daily Times
CHARLESTON, W.Va — State government’s job is to create an environment ripe for job creation — but not to create those jobs itself, according to West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael.
Carmichael, R-Jackson, told reporters Friday at The Associated Press’ annual Legislative Lookahead in Charleston that he plans to keep the Senate focused on those goals while trying to shore up a more-than-$500 million deficit in the state budget.
If cuts have to be made, estimated at about $390 million to $600 million, Carmichael said he hopes they’ll be made “in the most compassionate, responsible, efficient manner.” The Legislature’s regular session begins Wednesday.
Carmichael’s discussion focused on finding a long-term fix — namely, tax reform — that would affect the structure of government.
“It is fundamental to the revitalization in West Virginia,” he said, noting that he’ll study broadening the tax base through taxing professional services and others that are currently not taxed.
Carmichael said he has already taken steps toward finding that fix by creating the Senate Select Committee on Tax Reform.
He wants to see West Virginia do away with its income tax-based structure, and shift it toward a consumer sales tax.
“I think it would be a dereliction of our duty to not do what other states have done,” he said, citing Tennessee among several examples.
That structure would include taxes on natural resources that people take out of the state. With those resources go jobs and opportunities, he added.
And such a change would help ease the historical boom-to-bust cycles in the state’s economy, Carmichael said.
According to Carmichael, other needed reforms include additional changes to the judicial system that will make the state’s courts more predictable and fair, education reform that offers world-class, competitive schools and regulatory reform.
However, some short-term solutions to the deficit will likely come in the form of cuts that Gov. Jim Justice recommends, Carmichael said. Those reductions may be so deep that Carmichael is willing “to go into the state’s Rainy Day Fund” to ease the effects.
But the Republican majority will not leave Justice on his own to take the blame for any cuts. Rather, Republican leadership in the House and Senate will work to support him, and “not play political games,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael also gave his opinions on other initiatives that might come before the state Legislature. For example, he said he would be in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. However, he would not support any effort to decriminale or legalize marijuana for broader use.
Carmichael cited reports of real, medical benefits to using marijuana to ease pain.
“When we can alleviate the suffering for a fellow man, how can we not do it?”he said.
Regarding the PROMISE Scholarship, Carmichael said its value may have been reduced by higher-education tuition increases. He suggests forgiving student loans if students stay to work in West Virginia after a period of time — possibly three years.
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