West Virginia lawmakers prepare for first day of legislative session

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West Virginia’s legislative session is set to begin Wednesday with Republicans now holding supermajorities in both chambers.

Some Republican priorities include making the state more friendly to businesses to boost job growth and curtail the exodus of residents from the state. West Virginia has seen a decrease in its population in recent years, partially because of people moving out of the state and because deaths have outpaced births.

Legislation to make West Virginia more competitive will include broadband expansion, occupational licensing reform and making Gov. Jim Justice’s regulatory rollbacks permanent. Some Republican lawmakers have also backed efforts to abolish the state’s income tax, but it’s not clear whether they will offset the revenue losses with higher taxes elsewhere.

The Cardinal Institute, a state-based, free-market think tank is urging lawmakers to pass bills that minimize the government’s ability to set hurdles for families, businesses and those seeking new opportunities. Garrett Ballengee, the executive director, told The Center Square that they should focus on K-12 education, income tax reform and healthcare reform.

“For K-12 education, we believe the implementation of private school choice programs that allow families to direct their own tax dollars for their child’s education through an innovative policy like education savings accounts, commonly known as ‘ESAs,’ would be ideal for West Virginia,” Ballengee said. “For income tax reform, a thoughtful approach to eliminating the state’s personal income tax would be most welcome, as the data is quite clear: states that do not have an income tax enjoy an advantage over those states that tax productivity. Finally, West Virginia is one of the unlucky states that still has an anticompetitive, centralized — frankly Soviet-esque — healthcare regulatory regime known certificate-of-need (CON). West Virginians would enjoy a more competitive healthcare ecosystem if CON laws were [substantially] reformed or eliminated as they have been in several other states.”

Republican leaders from both chambers did not respond to requests from The Center Square for comment, but Democratic leaders told The Center Square they plan to work with the Republican supermajorities on bipartisan goals.

Sen. Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, told The Center Square that Republicans have indicated they have about 120 bills ready to introduce, but that they have not shared them with the Democrats. He said it’s too early to say where Democrats will stand on those bills until they get to see them.

However, Baldwin said he expects a bipartisan push for broadband expansion and legislation on education. When asked whether Democrats will support repealing the state income tax, he said they will first have to see the bill. He said it will depend on whether the bill provides opportunity for lower- and middle-income West Virginians.

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, told The Center Square his caucus will work on creating opportunities for all West Virginians to stay, rebuild and succeed. He said Democratic delegates will keep an open mind, put party politics aside and build compromises to move the state forward.

The Senate has a 23-11 Republican majority and the House of Delegates has a 76-23 Republican majority after November’s decisive victories for the GOP.

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