West Virginia Legislators Outline Their Priorities

CHARLESTON — Lawmakers are working on four pillars they believe will move the state’s economy forward.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, told members of the West Virginia Press Association Thursday that the four were the state’s tax structure, infrastructure, the legal regulatory climate and the education system.

However, over the last few years a fifth issue has emerged that has impacted the state economy, he said.

“We also have to deal with the drug epidemic in our state,” Armstead said. “We are trying to work in each of those areas during this session.”

The press association’s 2018 Legislative Breakfast Thursday was at the Embassy Suites hotel in Charleston.

Democrats in the Legislature also pointed out things they felt were important.

In addition to teachers, there is a need to pay corrections officers more as the state’s jail system is having a manpower shortage, said Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison.

Armstead talked about efforts to eliminate the personal property tax on equipment and inventory.

Tax studies have described it as a “job killer” in the state, he said.

“They said there were three main taxes standing in the way of economic development in our state, the business franchise tax which has been eliminated and the corporate net income tax … we have lowered that so it is more in line with surrounding states, Armstead said.

“The third remaining impediment is this personal property tax on equipment and inventory.”

Armstead said he believes the Legislature has a reasonable way to do that now with work taking place in the next couple of weeks on this issue.

“This tax has become so bad that our state is always trying to find a work-around … in order to attract businesses to this state,” he said.

Armstead said they want to eliminate the tax so all businesses can have opportunities in West Virginia. The cost of that, $20 million, can be absorbed by the state over time, Armstead said.

A constitutional amendment would have to be voted on by the people of the state. Such a thing would include assurances to the counties and school districts, which receive money from that tax, that they would be made whole, he said.

No one in the Democratic Caucus believes the personal property tax on equipment and inventory is a good tax, according to Miley.

“The reality is we are charged with balancing a budget,” Miley said. “We need to make sure we can do that.”

Work has been done on the state’s regulatory climate to make the state’s court systems more fair to all sides, Armstead said. Before changes were made, it impacted economic development and whether companies decided to locate in West Virginia, he said.

Regulations have been put on the books and have not been updated to see if they were working, Armstead said. Lawmakers believe those regulations should be reviewed every five years.

“No one wants to do away with necessary regulations that protect safety and our environment,” Armstead said.

Education is the key to moving the state forward economically, the speaker said. Legislators want young people to stay in the state, have jobs and be able to support their families, he said.

A proposed pay raise for teachers is being considered and discussions are happening with PEIA concerns, he said.

“We are moving forward in a positive way,” Armstead said.

With infrastructure, the Roads to Prosperity bond passed last fall which calls for the sale of $1.6 billion in bonds over four years for road improvement projects across the state.

“We need to make sure each one of those dollars is spent efficiently, ethically and have the type of oversight to ensure that,” Armstead said.

In dealing with the state’s drug epidemic, the state needs to identify how to prevent people from getting addicted and make it clear to those who would bring drugs into the state, this is not the place to come, he said.

The state is making progress but there is a ways to go despite some optimistic outlooks as pay for teachers and other public employees continues to remain unchanged, Miley said.

Miley said every year, there is something that seems to prevent businesses from coming to West Virginia and every year it changes from taxes to labor issues to regulations.

“You lose credibility when you say ‘this’ is the silver bullet,” Miley said. “You address that and come back and now it is something else. No one is going to come to our state if they don’t have good educational opportunities.”