Legislators name top issues for upcoming session
Members of the legislative contingency for Jefferson County gathered this week at a Chamber of Commerce sponsored event to discuss what is ahead in Charleston in the upcoming legislative session. On hand were Sen. Herb Snyder, Del. Stephen Skinner, Del. Paul Espinosa. And Del. Jill Upson. Sen. John Unger was unable to attend.
The format of the luncheon allowed each legislator to give a brief overview of what their focus will be in the upcoming session. Following those remarks, moderator Hans Fogle took questions from the audience for individual representatives.
A major concern focused on the budget shortfalls the state is seeing although members of the delegation addressed it in different ways. While the Repbulican representatives spoke out against raising taxes, and called for cuts in taxes, Del. Stephen Skinner voiced concern with that approach.
“If we start cutting taxes how are we going to fix the budget problems?” he asked. He called for an increase in the cigarette tax, which he said, should go to help fix the PEIA insurance problem for state employees who are looking at an increased cost for their health insurance in the upcoming year.
Sen. Snyder calls the upcoming “the toughest budget year I’ve seen.” He referred several times to “they” [potentially meaning the majority party members] “coming after horse and dog money.” He went on to label this time in the state’s history as “an absolute crisis.”
“We can’t talk about cutting taxes,” he said.
Delegates Espinosa and Upson both called for a fair tax system and for the need to evaluate the budget. Espinosa said he felt that the president’s policies “have led to what we see today, not the state’s budget,” when referring to unemployment and other potential cost increases in things like insurance.
Education, as is common, was also a talking point during the luncheon. All of the delegation spoke in favor of Jefferson’s upcoming levy issue saying the funds are necessary for the education system in the county.
Snyder pointed out that Forbes has listed West Virginia very negatively in regard to education, quoting that only 19 percent of West Virginians have a secondary degree.
“We need to change that,” Snyder said.
Skinner voiced concern over the Promise Scholarship, especially in reference to the governor’s recent budget cuts. His solution, he indicated, would be to provide Promise scholarship funding only to students attending public colleges and universities in West Virginia. Currently the scholarships go to students attending any in-state school, public or private.
“We are subsidizing private schools with public money,” Skinner said.
Tourism and changes in the state’s alcohol laws were also on the docket for discussion. A move to eliminate the restriction on selling or serving of alcohol on Sundays before 1 p.m. will be part of a movement in Charleston, according to some on the panel Thursday. There was also discussion on making it easier to allow wineries and breweries to develop here.
“Make it like Loudoun wineries,” Skinner said. “We need to make it easy to put wineries here and make it a seamless transition from Loudoun.”
The group drew a partisan line when discussion Right to Work adoption for West Virginia. Upson said that strongly supports West Virginia being a Right to Work state.
“Joining a union should not be a requirement for a job,” Upson said. “A lot of businesses won’t come here because we are not a right to work state,” she continued.
Snyder stated that he doesn’t like the right to work because it is “anti-union.” He believes that a reduction in wages will be seen should the state adopt a right to work policy.