When I began writing this column nine years ago, I never suspected it would still be in print. Much less that it would be printed all across the state. It is my hope that the column will allow you as a citizen to look behind the curtain of the capitol. Here’s the inside scoop.
GOVERNOR’S PERSONAL INCOME TAX PLAN. Governor Justice continues to pursue a personal income tax reduction plan. It cuts the personal income tax in half and increases taxes on alcohol, wine, tobacco, professional services, the sales tax, and more to make up the difference. He believes it will result in businesses, citizens, and young people relocating to West Virginia.
HOUSE REPUBLICAN PERSONAL INCOME TAX PLAN. Meanwhile, House Republicans are pursuing an alternate plan to reduce the income by $150 million per year for 13 years until it is completely eliminated. They pay for it by skimming from various funds including lottery, surplus, tobacco, and business taxes.
WILL INCOME TAX REFORM HAPPEN? It remains to be seen whether either plan will become reality. Lots of folks want to get rid of the income tax, but they disagree over how to do it. Critics of the governor’s plan don’t like the new taxes. Critics of the House plan say it will defund things like the Promise Scholarship.
POLICE PAY RAISE. A bill I co-sponsored to give a pay raise to police officers is expected to be placed on a committee agenda for debate this week. Folks, law enforcement salaries are far too low, especially considering the dangers they face on a daily basis. If we fail to take action and fairly compensate law enforcement, a crisis will soon face us when we cannot recruit public servants.
TERM LIMITS. A number of bills setting term limits are moving through the Senate — term limits for federal officeholders, term limits for state legislators, and term limits for state offices such as Attorney General. I’ve always supported term limits and stand in support of these bills before us now.
ELECTION LAW CHANGES. A comprehensive election law bill passed the Senate this week. I voted no because it shifts the voting calendar backwards. That would result in elimination of early voting on the Saturday before the election. That’s always the most popular day for early voting. Why would we eliminate that day for voters to express their will?
HANDLE WITH CARE. Several years ago, multiple local sheriffs (including those in Fayette and Greenbrier) instituted the “Handle with Care” program. Quite simply, when law enforcement takes a call at the home of a child (perhaps involving abuse, violence or drugs), they are authorized to contact the child’s school and ask them to handle the child with care. They do not share any details or personal info. They simply let them know something has occurred in the home and they should handle the child with care. I was on the Board of Education when we initiated the program, and it was enormously effective. We passed a bill this week to take the program statewide. Great news!
REFERENCE TO DELEGATE. My friend and colleague Delegate Todd Longanacre mentioned my name in his column this week. He took issue with a sentence from my March 10 column which referenced a delegate’s comments on public schools funds. He assumed I was speaking about him; I was not. I was speaking about a delegate from the panhandle who serves in leadership. I didn’t mention a name because, as a matter of civility, we as legislators do not criticize each other by name in debate. In Charleston, I work hard to get along with everyone personally. I appreciate all my colleagues, even those with whom I disagree politically, and believe we must all work hard to serve the people together.
That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you!
Senator Stephen Baldwin is the Minority Leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.