West Virginia

Justice, Senate leaders at odds on tax cuts

Good evening, it’s Wednesday.

The West Virginia Senate passed legislation that would require state officials to study homeless demographics, specifically to determine whether the state’s resources and support systems attract residents from out of state. But first, the governor’s tax cut plan has hit a roadblock in the form of the West Virginia Senate.

Justice comes out on the streets, says he’s open to compromise on tax cuts with Senate

Governor Jim Justice addresses a crowd in Beckley last week during an event. Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

Gov. Jim Justice is still taking his income tax plan touring the state, making stops in Bridgeport and Martinsburg this week, even as Senate leaders plan to pursue an entirely different tax effort.

Justice’s plan would halve personal income taxes over the next three years and create a $700 million reserve fund. His plan failed to gain support in the Senate.

“We’re two-thirds of the way home, we should have gotten this over with,” Justice said Monday of the plan, which was passed with minimal changes by the House of Representatives in addition to the governor’s endorsement last month. “It should be over now.”

Senate leaders have declared the proposal “dead on arrival” and senators are expected to propose their own tax plan in the near future. According to Senate Finance Committee Vice Chair Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, that plan could take the form of a dueling 50% tax cut that would cut taxes in half all at once.

“That’s going to require us to move a few dollars and try to do a few other things,” he said this week. “But the Senate is investigating that.” Oliverio added that he believes the Senate proposal could help attract workers to West Virginia.

However, proponents critical of large tax cuts have challenged that belief, arguing that the income tax cuts would drain state funds and further limit the state’s ability to provide services despite several ongoing crises.

If passed unchanged, Justice’s plan would reduce general revenue fund receipts by $161.8 million this year, and the size of that reduction would increase annually, reaching a decrease of $1.492 billion in 2026.

Speaking to MetroNews Talkline on Wednesday, Justice lamented the rift over the plan and said he was open to a compromise if it means passing a tax proposal before the end of the session.

“At least it puts us on the right track,” he said. “I’m going to be as casual as possible on this matter.”

—PR Lockhart

West Virginia had a plan to end homelessness. The legislature wants to examine the problem – again

Senators meet in Charleston on Wednesday. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

Nearly a decade after a state task force created a plan to end West Virginia’s homelessness and made significant progress toward that goal, the group no longer meets and lawmakers have pushed legislation to study the problem — again .

This time, the study would focus on demographic information and whether West Virginia’s resources for the homeless population would attract people from out of state. SB 239 was unanimously passed by the Senate earlier this week and sent to the House of Representatives.

In 2013, then Governor. Earl Ray Tomblin called an eight-agency task force to come up with a plan. It built on the efforts of previous governments and focused on collaboration between government and non-profit partners. At the time, federal officials pioneered a “housing-first” model that prioritized permanent shelters over temporary shelters.

Those working on homelessness across the state say the taskforce has helped and the data shows it. Between 2013 and 2020, homelessness in West Virginia fell by 40%. But the group no longer meets because Governor Jim Justice has not continued the effort.

While West Virginia has one of the lowest homelessness rates in the country, the number of vulnerable people — permanently living outdoors — has increased in recent years.

Rather than update an existing elaborate plan, the legislation going through the statehouse would task the commissioner of the Bureau of Behavioral Health to work with nonprofit and government leaders to create a new study of homeless demographics.

While the bill was brought forward by committee and passed by the Senate without debate, lead sponsor Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, told a TV station earlier this week that the bill’s goal is to find out what brings homeless people to West Virginia and how they move through the state. –Duncan Slade

go deeper: ‘I just walk all night to stay warm’: As more people live on the streets, vulnerable West Virginians struggle to survive

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