The Back Pew – March 25th, 2017

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by Stephen Baldwin

BUDGET. It sounds inconceivable to say that with just over two weeks left in the legislative session there is no news on the budget, but …there is no news on the budget. The Finance Committees in the House and Senate continue to meet and consider pieces of legislation, but they have not yet taken up the Governor’s bills. They do continue to talk about abolishing/revising the income tax, but the numbers simply don’t add up. I understand that the Governor’s staff is meeting privately with the House &Senate leadership in search of an end to this stalemate. I also understand a more specific budget proposal from the GOP legislative leadership is forthcoming soon, perhaps as soon as Saturday.

The bill I sponsored to limit legislator pay in a special session has gone nowhere. House leadership apparently has no plans to allow a vote on it.

PUBLIC BROADCASTING. The Governor did announce this week that his initial proposed cuts to WV Public Broadcasting are off the table. WVPB provides a valuable resource for a relatively small investment on the state’s part. I do think, as mentioned in a previous column, they will end up being housed within WVU in the next few years.

FORESTRY. One of my personal priorities this legislative session was getting our forestry employees back to work. Last summer over 30 employees (most of whom are from the southern part of the state) of the Department of Forestry were laid off as a result of legislative budget cuts. Not only do those forestry employees keep us safe from forest fires, but they also play a vital economic role in the timber industry. They’re salt of the earth people who work for modest wages because they believe in what they do. Gov. Justice announced last week that 15 employees will be rehired in those forestry jobs through funding from the Commerce Department. Great news! Now, we need to find a long-term funding solution to ensure the solvency of this important agency.

COURTESY PATROL. Last week the House voted to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol. I voted against because it’s been a wonderful welfare-to-work program for decades and provides a helpful service to folks stranded on the highway. The bill must receive approval from the Senate and Governor before it becomes law.

EDUCATION UPDATE. We were told the House Education Committee would take up the Governor’s budget no later than this week. If we do, we’ll have the chance to make adjustments to the calendar, consider a raise for teachers & service personnel, switch assessments (perhaps to the ACT test), and provide clarity about standards, among other important educational issues.

SPEECH. Last week I made a speech telling the Legislature, “It’s not about you; it’s about West Virginia.” It caused quite a stir! Some folks have asked if they can watch it. You can by going to my Facebook page “Baldwin for WV.”

Until next week, that’s the view from the back pew in Charleston. Take care!

(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.)