by Stephen Baldwin
It’s crunch time, so let’s get down to business with an update.
BUDGET. We don’t have a budget yet, but we are closer. Republican leadership released a plan to increase taxes last weekend. They propose enacting a flat income tax of 5.1%, which would results in everyone who makes less than $100,000 paying more tax and those making more than $100,000 getting a tax cut. They propose dropping the sales tax from 6% to 5.5%. And they propose removing most all tax exemptions (translation – you pay taxes on transactionswith lawyers, accountants, realtors, hair dressers, mobile home sales, and more).
Those plans are dead on arrival in the Legislature. Even though the GOP is in control, they do not have the votes to pass their plan.Why? It leaves a hole in the budget, which would have to be made up by more cuts. It also puts a large tax burden on working families without asking the wealthy or corporate interests to pay their fair share. We debated the plans hotly last Saturday, and ever since they’ve delayed those bills from being voted upon or debated further. What happens next? They will either go back to the drawing board… or concede that A) we can’t cut our way out of this and B) we must enact fair taxes to provide the services citizens need.
EDUCATION. The House passed bill 2711. It represents the most significant education reform in five years. What does it do? First, it fixes the calendar by allowing schools to use accrued minutes. No more rigid 180-day requirement regardless of how much snow we get in the winter! Our students already attend more minutes each day than they’re required, and now they can count that time towards the 180-day requirement.
Second, it eliminates bureaucracy at the state and regional level by removing all funding for the Office of Performance Audits (OEPA) and 7% of the administrative funding for Regional Educational Service Agencies (RESA). Some folks like firefighters and EMTs use RESA to get affordable training. That will continue! This puts education dollars to work directly rather than passing them through an agency with administrative costs.
Third, it reduces standardized testing. Students currently spend weeks practicing for and taking tests that have no effect on their academic careers. This bill limits the amount of time students can spend testing. It also opens the door to tests like the ACT in which students have a real incentive to do well.
FLOOD MITIGATION. After last summer’s flood, I found out we had a state flood protection plan collecting dust on a shelf for ten years. That floored me. We must do better. So I was very proud to stand in support of a bill we passed last Saturday to establish a state flood mitigation council. Next time, we’ll be better prepared to coordinate and communicate. I asked my colleagues to stand with me as we voted, in order to honor the 23 souls who died in the flood. We are still “WV Strong.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org)