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Trifecta Passed – Budget, PEIA, Tax Cuts
Lawmakers passed their trifecta, and sent the state budget to the Governor before the end of the session — no need for an extended budget session as was the usual procedure when Democrats were in the majority. The big winner in this budget was the state Economic Development Office, which got the lion’s share of the remaining ARPA (federal Covid rescue) funds to the tune of $500 million to bribe corporations to locate here.
Our state employees will be using most, if not all, of their $2,300 pay raise to pay for the increases in premiums and co-pays on their PEIA health plans. Spouses of state employees will pay even more to stay on the PEIA family plan if their employer offers even a really skimpy, expensive plan. Years of one-time money dumps into PEIA have made this situation dire. But hey, let’s give away $700 million in tax revenue and make state workers spend their raise on healthcare…
Passing the tax cuts benefits mostly the wealthiest and sets our state up for a sea of red ink in future years, giving lawmakers an excuse to cut state services and programs. Let’s see, who is the wealthiest person in WV? That’s right, it’s Jim Justice, the force majeure behind the income tax cuts will get the biggest return out of them, hmmm….
Remember the recent speaker at the Governor’s final tax cut pony show, Grover Norquist? Norquist’s claim to fame was his quote of wanting to “shrink government down to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub”. The massive tax cut just passed will cut a whopping $700 million in state revenue the first year with triggers to totally eliminate the income tax, which is one of the most progressive taxes we have. Once the red ink tsunami hits, look for calls to cut funding for state services and raise regressive taxes like the sales tax, which falls heavier on lower income families. Then we can say, “We told you so.”
The Justice family is going after even more tax breaks for broad swaths of land holdings in three southern counties as reported by the Register Herald. Seems like they just can’t get enough of them…
Families Protest Prison Deaths
The WV Poor People’s Campaign hosted its national leader Rev. William Barber on Friday at the state Capitol to lift up the plight of inmates in WV’s broken prison system. The same day, lawmakers passed a resolution continuing the Governor’s state of emergency, allowing the National Guard to continue staffing our prisons until enough workers and guards can be hired. On the floor of the House it was stated that our corrections system has an overall 25% vacancy rate and as far as guards 33% of positions are empty. See video of the Poor People’s Campaign event here.
Family members of inmates who died in WV jails were at the rally to share their stories. One mother told of her son’s arrest and, within 24 hours, he was dead from blunt force trauma. No bail, no conviction. A daughter weeped as she shared how their father repeatedly told his family of beatings by other inmates until he finally died after being taken to the hospital. “An arrest or even a conviction and prison sentence should not be a death sentence,” said Rev. Barber. It was revealed that one incarcerated person a month is dying in WV jails.
At the rally, it was announced that the Poor People’s Campaign has called for a federal civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice. The rally concluded with participants marching to the Governor’s office to deliver a petition with over 4,500 signatures calling for a state investigation into the deaths that have occurred.
Medicaid Buy-In a No Go
After passing the House overwhelmingly, the Affordable Medicaid Buy-In bill languished in the Senate with the jackboot of Big Insurance on its neck. Afraid of losing some revenue from those transitioning out of the Medicaid system, Highmark and other state players got to policymakers and the state’s Insurance Commissioner to make sure it never emerged from the Senate Health Committee. Not surprising, I suppose, that when a greedy for-profit corporation sniffs a potential loss of revenue, even if a small amount, it doesn’t matter that the bill they’re killing off would have helped a lot of families move up the income ladder to a better life….
Full Ban on Gender Affirming Care Rolled Back
HB 2007 passed on the last day of the session. It still bans gender transition surgery for minors, but was amended to allow trans youth, under very specific guidelines, to receive medical treatment for severe gender dysphoria. This is still a terrible bill interfering in personal, private medical decisions, but it could have done a lot more harm with the complete medication therapy ban included. When will this ‘holier than thou’ crew at the Capitol give it a rest?
West Virginia Now A RFRA State
Another ‘holier than thou’ bill, the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, RFRA, has also been signed by the Governor. Our name for it is the Freedom to Discriminate Act, as it does just that – gives bigots the cover of ‘this person’s lifestyle goes against my religious beliefs’ in order to deny housing, employment, medical services, haircuts, or whatever. This will be used to bypass local nondiscrimination ordinances that have been successfully passed by many municipalities in our state.
Even though lawmakers enacted their ban on abortion last year based on their religious beliefs, they made it very clear in this bill that other religious beliefs would not be a basis for a woman seeking one. So the courts will now have to decide which plaintiff’s religion will prevail? This kind of public policy supporting one set of religious beliefs in order to overturn state and local laws may backfire as we’re now hearing about the ‘First WV Church of Cannabis’ being formed to protect the beliefs of those who hold this herb sacred and believe it is a gift from God. Amen, and pass around the sacrament, LOL…
Different Takes on the Results of the 2023 Legislative Session
Mountain State Spotlight has been a source for excellent coverage of the session and their wrap-up is a well documented summary of what happened. There’s so much going on, no one news source has the capacity to cover it all in the detail it needs. Go back and look at the list we published at the beginning of the session of our allies and additional media outlets. They all have something to add.
Moving On – Keep Those Memberships Coming!
Now that the session is over, we can get back to the ‘normal’ frantic pace of our work on climate justice, health care for all, democracy and voting, and all things progressive. Federal fights to protect Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and making the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes are coming at us as the fight to lift the debt limit is heating up. Republicans want to extract cuts to these life-saving programs and other spending they deem excessive, but don’t touch the Pentagon budget.
YOU can be a part of the solution by simply heading to www.wvcag.org and clicking the Donate button to renew or becoming a new supporting member of WV Citizen Action. Our Education Fund is the place to send larger tax-deductible donations. Of course a good old fashion check in the mail to 1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, WV 25311 will do the trick! Thank YOU in advance for your support and being an active ‘Citizen’ in Citizen Action!