Don’t Expect Much to Change

Will West Virginia legislators get tax reform done this year? Will U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., be re-elected? Will Democrats gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate?

Who knows? I gave up making firm predictions about politics years ago. But it is a new year, so a few observations about the above and other topics seem in order:

∫ Whether Manchin retains his seat in the Senate depends on a number of factors. A key is whether Manchin can avoid being labeled as an enemy of President Trump. You may have noticed Trump going out of his way to pin that tag on Manchin. Meanwhile, the senator has worked hard to portray himself as a reasonable Democrat who’d love to work with the White House, but has been rejected.

∫ Who wins the GOP nomination for the Senate from West Virginia? No prediction, except that it will be a bare-knuckle battle between West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va. I’m told neither has to worry about draining their campaign chests during the primary. The national Republican organization will fill any post-primary financial needs — because GOP leaders sense they have a real chance of unseating Manchin.

∫ As for ex-Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship’s run for the GOP Senate nomination, it will accomplish just one thing: It will pull a few southern West Virginia votes away from Jenkins.

∫ How will the West Virginia Legislature do this year? The Republican majority’s agenda should benefit from Gov. Jim Justice’s change in party — and, perhaps, attitude. He’s now a Republican, and during the past few months, he hasn’t gone out of his way to make new enemies.

Will legislators make progress on tax reform? Maybe. One suggestion is that lawmakers should eliminate the personal property tax, including that on business inventories.

Doing that could improve the economic outlook. Not incidentally, it would help GOP candidates for the Legislature this fall. But it would require coming up with a lot of money to offset personal property tax revenue to local and county governments, including public schools.

Will that money be available? Not yet. Some lawmakers believe that after years of trouble balancing the state budget, things are about to turn around. That remains a question.

∫ One way of scraping up a substantial amount of money would be to finally launch a campaign to cut the fat and waste out of state spending. Will it happen? That’s doubtful. More likely, the bureaucrats will win again by using their familiar doom-and-gloom claims. To beat them at that would require months of investigating how money is really spent.

∫ If you’re a state Supreme Court justice, buckle your seat belt. Outrage over lavish spending at the court will translate to punitive action by legislators.

Justices have one strong defense against that, the separation of powers doctrine that is at the heart of both the U.S. and state constitutions. Attempting to use the courts’ budget to punish a few justices may well be unconstitutional.

∫ West Virginia’s drug abuse crisis is seen as a priority by many lawmakers. But meaningful action against it will require tons of money. State government doesn’t have it. Expect lawmakers to do what they can, but on a tight budget.

∫ Will Democrats pick up a House of Representatives seat in West Virginia? No. Incumbent U.S. Reps. David McKinley. R-1st District; and Alex Mooney, R-2nd District, will win re-election easily. In the 3rd District, now represented by Jenkins, another Republican will win. Thus far, the leader in that race would appear to be Carol Miller, who currently serves as majority whip in the House of Delegates. She owns a farm in Cabell County.

Happy new politics year!

Myer can be reached at: