By Jean A. Flanagan
With the start of the 2018 Legislative Session just around the corner, Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-55) hosted a town hall meeting to hear what’s on the minds of his constituents. “I want to get your concerns,” he said.
Roger Champ of Moorefield said he heard there was consideration at the end of last years’ session to make personal property exempt for businesses. “There was a bill that would also give county commissions the authority to pass excess levies to make up the difference,” he said.[private]
Sponaugle confirmed there was discussion about eliminating the personal property tax, but it would need a constitutional amendment to change the tax code.
“There were some in the Senate pushing it,” he said. “It would benefit the coal and gas industry because they wouldn’t pay taxes on their inventory.
“We have a three-tiered tax system. There’s property tax, consumption tax or sales tax and personal income tax. The governor and the legislature want to eliminate the personal income tax. But they’re not really eliminating it, they’re moving around the taxes and who pays them. Tax reform is good if it benefits the people who need it.”
Champ also asked about a resolution that died in committee to exempt 100 percent disabled veterans from property tax. “States around us, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia do not tax their veterans if they are 100 percent disabled,” he said.
Sponaugle said, after researching the issue, found only 160 people who would be affected. “That, too, would have to go to the voters,” he said.
Terry Weaver from Wardensville said he understood the state budget was balanced when Joe Manchin was Governor. “What happened?” he asked.
Sponaugle said, “Basically, poor decisions.
“We eliminated the food tax, lowered the corporate tax and eliminated the business franchise tax. We relied on the severance from coal and gas and taxes on the gaming industry.
“Then coal bottomed out. Gas prices tanked. Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio passed gambling legislation.
“Basically we have a cash flow problem. We have more expenses than revenue. We can either raise taxes or cut services, both of which are extremely unpopular.”
Sponaugle used the example of health care expenses for government employees – PEIA. “Medical inflation is 6 – 8 percent every year – that’s a $65 million increase every year,” he said.
While the state budget is $12.9 billion, the general fund is only $4.9 billion and half of that pays for K-12 education, Sponaugle said. “There’s a substantial amount of pass-through money from the federal government for things like Medicare and Medicaid.”
Several people mentioned West Virginia’s loss of population.
“There’s been a loss of teachers, too,” said Baker resident Cindy Walters.
“We will probably lose a Congressional seat after the next census because of the loss of population,” Sponaugle said.
Champ said he fears the Right-to-Work legislation and the impact it will have on the work predicted through the sale of Road Bonds.
“Outsiders will take West Virginia jobs to work on the roads,” he said. “People from out of state already take jobs.”
Doug Mongold of Moorefield said he did not support the state’s prevailing wage laws. “We had a project at (Moorefield) town hall that started out at $100,000 and ended up at $200,000 after we had to pay prevailing wage,” he said.
Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College President Dr. Charles “Chuck” Terrell asked that the legislature stop cutting assistance to higher education. “We’ve had five consecutive years of budget cuts,” he said. “I’ve lost 10 positions. I do not have sufficient instructors to teach students.
“While our goal is to keep tuition low, people in the community say they can’t afford to send their kids to Eastern. There is the perception that higher education is out of reach.”
Terrell said Eastern is marketing its Dual Credit program, which allows high school students to earn college credits while still in high school. “We’re direct mailing juniors, seniors and their parents and showing them how much they can save,” he said.
Terrell also referenced the drug abuse crisis. “We are having the same problem as business and industry, we can’t find students,” he said.
Sponaugle said he was crafting legislation to rework the state’s Promise Scholarship. “I call it Promise for All,” he said.
West Virginia’s Promise Scholarship provides up to $4,750 to students who have a 3.5 GPA and go to college in West Virginia.
Sponaugle’s proposal would increase the cap to $10,000 and lower the GPA to 2.0. The scholarship could also apply to two-year, as well as four-year institutions.
“In addition, for every year you use it, you have to work a year in West Virginia,” he said. “And if you leave the state, you have to repay it.
“It’s not a silver bullet and it will have to be in effect for 10 years or more before we really see any benefit.”
Sponaugle said he was also working on legislation to help with Worker’s Compensation for volunteer organizations like firefighters and rescue squads.
“When the state went to private Worker’s Comp, they charge the same rate whether you’re going into a burning building or sitting in a meeting,” he said.
“The bottom line is our worker’s comp went from $2,500 a year to $25,000 a year,” Mongold said.
Mongold is the Chief of the Moorefield Volunteer Fire Department.
“Why is the state still wasting money on Corridor H at the foot of Wardensville?” asked Leroy Wilkins of Mathias.
Sponaugle said a number of conditions must be met before construction can begin on the section between Wardensville and the Virginia state line. In addition, federal funding will be necessary to finish the road in any direction.
Sponaugle outlined his priorities for the upcoming year.
“I will fight any unfair tax reform,” he said. “That means taking money out of the pockets of working people and putting it in the pockets of people like our governor.
“As a state, we need high speed Internet access. Frontier (Communications) hijacked all the federal money and they filed suit against the bill we passed last year to give better access. We may have to look at putting broadband under the Public Service Commission. It is a necessary utility in this day and age.”
Sponaugle said the 2018 Legislative Session will begin on Wednesday, Jan. 10 and will end Saturday, March 10.
Anyone wishing to contact him may call 304-358-2110 or 304-340-3154 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His Capitol Office is located at Room 258M, Building 1, State Capitol Complex, Charleston, WV 25305.[/private]