The Big Disconnect

Talking with a reentry advocate about the myriad problems in our prison system this week, it hit me that too many in the majority party controlling the Legislature right now are basically disconnected from real solutions needed to address many of the critical problems facing our state. 

Disconnect #1: Prison system with a $200 million deferred maintenance bill, including more than $20 million needed to repair locks, and with our national guard called in to fill in for a lack of prison workers… 

Response: Let’s use our one time ‘surplus’ to give tax cuts to the rich, and oh yeah, give guards a cost of living increase, a one time bonus, and let them retire early.

Disconnect #1.5: Our state jails are overcrowded with twice the inmate population they were built for and counties are going broke paying the per diem fees to house their inmates. Over half our inmates have not been convicted of a crime, but are stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail… 

Response: Let’s make the new crop of recreational drugs like Delta’s illegal so we can put more people in jail. Also, let’s increase penalties for lots of other things that are already illegal and add a bunch of new felonies to our criminal code. “So far, lawmakers have introduced more than 200 bills related to criminal law. Approximately 110 bills create new offenses or increase criminal penalties for existing crimes.” – from the WV Center on Budget and Policy’s Recap of the First Half of the Legislative Session “Who needs bail reform?”

Disconnect #2: State school systems have twice the teacher vacancy rate now than we had during the teachers strikes… 

Response: Let’s pass a CRT bill and make teachers do even more extra work by having to post every single book & paper online before it can be used in the classroom. And, oh yeah, let’s let parents sue teachers and schools who leave something out. (To be fair, a 5% pay raise and extra classroom help for early elementary grades is being considered.)

Disconnect #3: Our electric bills have risen to nearly the highest in the country because we continue to burn coal for over 90% of our power in WV! 

Response: Resolutions are pending in both House and Senate (HR 12 & SR 26) supporting Mon Power’s purchase of the Pleasants Power Station, and saddling ratepayers with the cost. WV already bailed out this inefficient and outdated coal plant in 2019 by letting it off the hook for $12 million a year in B&O taxes. The Senate has also advanced a bill (SB 168) to exempt coal sold to in-state power plants from the severance tax — a $20 million a year break! The House is considering even more — $70 million a year in severance tax credits — in HB 3133! Electric customers are the ones that need the break!

Disconnect #4: WV has a severe shortage of trained workers. Who will staff all these big industrial plants that our state has wooed here recently with over $500 million in corporate handouts? 

Response: Let’s cut unemployment in half to only 12 weeks and make it so onerous to do the paperwork and meet reporting requirements that many folks will fall through the cracks and be forced to work part time at Wendy’s to keep from being homeless. Factoid from recent committee meeting – Workforce WV (state unemployment office) currently has around 150 vacancies in its own workforce because of (again) low pay scales! But, what the heck, let’s still use the ‘surplus’ to give tax breaks to the wealthy! 

I could go on and on… 

Disclaimer: The above is the unfortunately clueless side of this legislative session. Nothing is ever totally black and white. There are many bills running (just not enough) that do try to address real needs and hopefully some will even make it to the Governor’s desk. Stay tuned…

Over Halfway There 

We’re now past the midpoint of the Session and bills are moving faster. There are now 606 bills introduced in the Senate and a whopping 1,365 in the House. However we have several deadlines approaching that will make this week that will slow this tsunami down to a halt. Tuesday, February 14th is the last day to introduce bills into the House by the regular process. Monday, February 20th is the final day in the Senate. Then comes ‘Crossover Day’ (March 1st) when all bills must be passed out of their house of origin or they’ll be considered ‘dead’ for this session. See full calendar here. As of Friday, the Senate had passed 133 bills, and the House had passed 77. Nineteen of those bills had reached the Governor’s desk (9 Senate bills, 10 House bills) and 7 have been signed into law.    

Tax Credits for Forest Owners Threatened

While they are falling over themselves to give away even more tax revenue to King Coal, our lawmakers are moving a pair of bills seeking to add new taxes on landowners who enter into Carbon Offset Agreements, i.e. agree to not timber their land for a certain period of time (often 20 years). Here is a quick action by the National Forest Foundation, one of the groups promoting Carbon Offsets. Use the link to tell your lawmakers this is a terrible idea and just say NO.. 

Senate Passed Tax Cut Plan

On Wednesday, the Senate amended their tax cut plan into the Governor’s car tax rebate bill (SB 424) in the Finance Committee, sent it to the Senate floor, and suspended rules to pass it that afternoon with little debate and no fiscal note on its cost to the state. It sets triggers to eventually totally eliminate the income tax, gives state rebates on personal and business properly taxes paid to counties including business and inventory ala Amendment #2. Don’t worry, it’s safe, they say… More analysis here

Keep Those Memberships Coming!

It’s been empowering to see those checks coming in the mail and online memberships growing. Thanks for having our backs as we work for justice for all on nearly every front — social, economic,  and environmental. You are the Action in Citizen Action and when you make those calls to legislators and send in that green energy to support the work, it’s a real morale boost when the going gets tough! So thank you for taking a minute to join or renew your membership!

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