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State budget remains Legislature’s big issue


Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. —  Local legislators have weighed in on what they think the most important issues are for the upcoming legislative session.

The state budget is a big issue that the Legislature will be dealing with this upcoming session, Delegate Guy Ward, R-Marion, said.

“We’re looking at a $500 million deficit in next year’s budget and it could be up to $800 million the year after that,” he said.

Another issue that will probably be addressed during the legislative sessions will be making West Virginia business friendly, he added.

The state needs to get rid of a lot of regulations that keep businesses away from West Virginia. This will help the state by bringing business which will hopefully create good paying jobs. This will also help businesses already here and might encourage them to employ more people, Ward said.

“Jobs are a big issue this year,” he said.

There are two ways to raise revenue for the state — raising taxes or increasing the tax base, he said.

Nobody likes raising taxes. Taxes can only be raised so much because people can only handle so much, he said.

The best way to raise revenue is to increase the tax base because the taxes are spread over everybody, businesses and individuals, he said.

“When you need to increase your tax base the best way to do that is bring business in to create jobs,” Ward said. “There will be more people and businesses paying into the system.”

Doing all of this will take time, so the state needs quick fixes for the budget as well. This could include an increase in taxes, Ward said.

“Some of them I may be for, and some of them I may be against,” he said. “Ultimately, I’m against all increases in taxes, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do to survive.”

Another way to get businesses to West Virginia would be to get historical tax credits increased.

Ward wants to get historical tax credits increased. He is working on a bill to increase the historical tax credit from 10 to 25 percent.  This would help stimulate the local economies in cities and towns. It would also help businesses to invest money. Businesses are investing money in states with tax credits all around the state. We need to get them to invest in West Virginia, he said.

Businesses investing money in old buildings in the state would ultimately create jobs and places for new businesses to move to.

The drug issue is also a big issue in West Virginia that needs to be addressed by the Legislature, Ward said.

“We’ve got to come up with ways to stop it,” he said. “Jobs are key. If you bring in jobs in the state, that will help with the drug issue. I think a lot of people turn to drugs because they don’t have a job.”

West Virginia also needs more recovery centers in the state, and it needs to put people in these centers instead of incarcerating them. The state needs to give drug addicts longer than 30 to 60 days at recovery centers. It takes a year or two to get off drugs for good, Ward said.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, also agrees that the state budget is an important issue coming up in the legislative session.

“The budget hole for the coming fiscal year is estimated to be $500 million,” she said. “Our previous approach in taking out of the Rainy Day Fund will no longer work and reduces our bond rating so we could no longer have a lending mechanism.That’s like draining your savings account and not being able to replace it.”

Another important issue coming up in the legislative session is agency cuts and decreasing government spending, Longstreth said.

“We have to bring expenses in line with revenue just as we do with our own budgets.” she said.

Discussion of tax increases will be on the agenda for this legislative session. Longstreth hopes the state can avoid any increases. People are having a difficult time as it is, she said.

“We are in a bad fiscal situation, and we must look at all options,” Longstreth said. “It’s going to take a while, but we are going to have to do whatever it takes to get our budget balanced under constitutional law.”

Education will be discussed during this legislative session as well, according to Longstreth.

Education and having more local control over education will be on the agenda. So will eliminating the A-through-F grading system used for schools, Longstreth said.

“Also charter schools will be on (the) leadership agenda, which I am totally against,” she said.

The number one issue that needs to be addressed during this legislative session for Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, is the state budget, he said.

“It’s going to be very, very difficult to solve,” he said. “We have some real budgetary concerns in this upcoming session and quite frankly for the upcoming couple years.”

The budget deficit is priority number one. The Legislature should start on day one on how to get the state’s financial house in order and resolve the huge deficit, Caputo said.

“I’m very excited to be able to work with our new governor, Jim Justice,” he said. “I think Jim is an outside-the-box thinker. I think he’s going to lay out some ideas that hopefully we can work with and get on our way to some financial security for the State of West Virginia.”

It’s easy to start slashing services to save money, if it’s not a service that is important to you. When you start slashing services for people who need them and deserve them, then it is very difficult, Caputo said.

Everybody has different ideas on how to save money, from consolidation of services to elimination of services and everything in between. Caputo wants to wait and see what Justice’s plan is, he said.

There is a Republican majority in the House of Delegates and in the Senate and it is their job to set the agenda for the legislative session and to steer things. Caputo wants to see their leadership plan, he said.

“If it’s things that I like I’ll certainly do all I can to support it,” he said. “If I think it’s items that will hurt West Virginia families, then I’ll vigorously oppose them.”

The first day of the 2017 legislative session is Feb. 8.

Attempts to reach Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, Marion, and Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, for comment were unsuccessful.

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