The Back Pew – March 18th, 2017

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by Stephen Baldwin

The legislative session last 60 days. We’re now past the halfway mark. Highlights from the last week include:

REPUBLICAN BUDGET PROPOSALS – Each day, we’ve been asking legislative leaders who criticize Gov. Justice’s budget proposal, “Well, what is your plan?” This week, we received multiple “frameworks.” The GOP-led Senate still wants to move forward with eliminating the income tax, even though that will create an even larger budget deficit. The GOP-led House wants to cut another $250 million in education and health spending, cut the sales tax, and enact a flat income tax. All of those actions will hurt the poor and working families while the rich will pay lower taxes.

These approaches do not make sense to me, because they will not benefit the vast majority of our citizens. Plus, they do not set us up for success in the future like the Governor’s plan to build roads and create jobs. America was built on a progressive tax structure. It has worked well for hundreds of years. Why are we turning that on its head now?

LIMIT PAY DURING SPECIAL SESSION – Last year we were all ashamed at the length of the special session, caused by the legislature’s inability to pass a budget. It cost us hundreds of thousand of dollars. With another budget battle looming this year, I co-sponsored a bill limiting legislator pay for a special session to five days. I call on the House leadership to put the bill up for a vote.

BEER & LIQUOR TAXES – Several folks called to ask why the Governor’s plan includes increased taxes on soda and cigarettes but not alcohol? It actually does; I failed to mention it in previous columns. His plan includes an increase in the beer and liquor tax, as does the budget proposal of the GOP-led House. So it seems we all agree on at least one thing!

MEDICAL MARIJUANA – Last week, the House debated whether to allow medical marijuana in the state. Those in support argued it is an issue of compassion, because medical marijuana can provide pain and/or symptomatic relief for patients of certain diagnoses such as cancer, PTSD, ALS, and MS, while not having the side effects of pharmaceutical drugs. Those against argued that we might be opening a can of worms. Folks on both sides made heartfelt arguments. In the end, the push for medical marijuana failed, but I voted in favor of it because for me it is a compassion issue. A select group of patients working with their doctors in our state could receive relief from medical marijuana, and I think we owe it to them to give them as many tools as possible.

GOVERNOR’S EDUCATION BILL – This week the House Education Committee is scheduled to consider Gov. Justice’s education reform bill. Comprehensive in approach and scale, the bill includes provisions to amend the calendar requirement for 180 days, eliminate the Smarter Balanced assessment, raise teacher pay, eliminate RESAs & OEPA, and more. It is filled with bipartisan policy proposals which will strengthen our schools, so I hope it gets a full and fair hearing in the House.

That’s the view from the back pew this week. Here’s to hoping (and praying) we accomplish more in the last 30 days than we did in the first 30 days.

(Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and Delegate to the WV House. You may reach him at 304-340-3131 or Stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov.)