Republican leaders in the West Virginia Legislature outlined their priorities for the 60-day session, which kicks off today at noon. Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw gathered members of their respective caucuses Tuesday and came up with four main priorities.
The Republican majority plans to focus on education, infrastructure, curbing the state’s problems with drug addiction and job growth.
“We have seen a momentous turnaround in our state since Republicans took control in Charleston, and we firmly believe the best is still yet to come,” President Carmichael said. “We plan this year to build on the largest public employee pay raise in state history, provide substantial tax relief to our job creators and seniors, and help provide new educational and workforce training options for our citizens.”
Included in their agenda is a proposal for another round of raises for teachers and other state employees, establishing charter schools, making community and technical college free, repairing secondary roads and increasing broadband access.
“The theme of this legislative session is to make West Virginia the best place to live, work and raise a family,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “Everything we do will be with this goal in mind.”
The proposal to make community and technical college free passed the Senate unanimously last session -- but failed to clear the House of Delegates. The history between the two chambers on that issue could be repeatd this session.
Speaker Hanshaw said Tuesday he isn’t sure free community and technical college is the answer to workforce training and development, which remains a larger issue in his mind.
“I don't know if community college is the right thing to support. We're behind the Senate one hundred percent in terms of workforce training,” Hanshaw said. “We will be on board there. We will be on board with proposals that expand access and opportunities for workforce training.”
Republican leadership also plans to rollback the state’s business and manufacturing equipment and inventory tax, as well as the income tax on social security.
Carmichael said there are no plans for tax increases of any kind this session, even with proposed spending and tax cuts far outweighing current surpluses.
But Democrats remain cautious of the math coming into session. They say they are open to spending proposals offered by their counterparts but are concerned about balancing the budget with new spending and proposed tax cuts -- even with surpluses anticipated to near $300 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“It's over a half a billion dollars if they get everything they want,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said of potential budget shortfalls given proposals outlined by the majority.
However, despite promises of bipartisan cooperation from the Republican majority, Prezioso said he and other members of his Democratic caucus have yet to hear from those in leadership.
“Obviously, we're hearing from the governor about all the things he's going to do with all this excess money,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso. “I've added it up. It doesn't register.”
Legislative leaders from both parties will get to see how their agendas match up with Gov. Justice’s during Wednesday’s State of the State address.