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G-OpEd™: Legislature & Secretary of State

Legislature Addresses Elections, Business Filings and Efficiencies for Secretary of State’s Office
The Free Press WV

The day I took office we began meeting with legislators to swiftly draft proposed bills to deal with the difficulties encountered in this office. I asked our employees to tell me the problems they confront on a daily basis while doing their work for the companies and voters we serve. We reached out to county clerks and business leaders to find solutions to issues they face.

I was astonished by the input we received and the coalitions we ultimately formed to work toward common goals. During the legislative session, we closely monitored and participated in the progress of legislation shaping our state. I would like to specifically highlight key legislation passed to assist in streamlining the office and eliminating waste of taxpayer’s money:


Cutting the red tape for businesses:

The Legislature required the Secretary of State to create a “One-Stop” call center, website and tax collection mechanism for businesses of the state. I am very encouraged to move this project forward.

The Legislature has allowed our office to create uniformity in the fees charged to corporations and limited liability companies. It also enables our office to provide a fee for expedited services rendered through “One-Stop.“ These voluntary fees for expedited services are currently in place in 31 states, and will allow us to move at the speed of business.


Increasing transparency and eliminating waste:

In the first days of taking office, our Business and Licensing experts presented to me a burdensome procedure for repackaging and re-mailing undeliverable Service of Process filings to circuit courts, which resulted in our office spending around $27,000 in added costs to taxpayers. We developed a change in code streamlining the inefficient process.

House Bill 2767 was drafted by our office, introduced by lead sponsor Delegate John O’Neal, and passed the House of Delegates 98-0 and the Senate 34-0 to eliminate this inefficient process. In discussions with parties involved in the June 2017 flood recovery, our office was made aware of issues of sole proprietors operating under “fictitious names” that do not get registered in a searchable public location. This created problems for flood victims that were looking for reliable help in a hurry, but could not verify a business name.

In conjunction with the county Clerks Association, we drafted legislation that would have all sole proprietors file in the Secretary of State’s Office and we would create a uniform database to search all registered sole proprietors in West Virginia. State Senator Craig Blair took the lead on the bill and it passed 34-0 in the Senate and 96-0 in the House of Delegates.


Elections updates:

  • For elections held past the beginning of July in 2017, the electioneering prohibition near a polling location will exist for election day voting locations and now also for early voting locations;
  • Legislators now have additional disclosure requirements on fundraising activities during legislative session;
  • Judicial races will be placed on the ballot along with their respective districts of state and county elections

We accomplished a great deal of work in a 60-day session. Of course, there is much to be done in perfecting a fair elections process, to do the work of our state and to grow our economy by lifting the bureaucracies from business. I am looking forward to taking on these tasks to move West Virginia forward.

Mac Warner
WV Secretary of State

The Long Road to ‘Iowa’

The Free Press WV

At one point during the budget debate last month, Governor Justice recoiled against any budget compromise that included deep budget cuts.  Justice used one of his now famous metaphors to make his point.

“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say ‘you like the desert, and I like Alaska, so we’re going to end up in Iowa.’ Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up,” he said.

Well, ten days after the end of the regular session of the Legislature (including one additional day to work on the budget), we’re nowhere near a hospitable gathering of the Governor, the Senate and the House in Des Moines.

However, there are at least some road maps that might just lead them there.

The Justice administration and Senate leaders are coalescing around a framework for a budget. The plan, which was unveiled in the final hours of the regular session, includes a lot of what the Governor wants—additional revenue from a sales tax increase, a commercial activities tax and temporary wealth tax, higher fuel taxes and DMV fees to build roads and a pay raise for classroom teachers.

The Senate side of the deal includes a modification of the state income tax, reducing the current five tiers to three and lowering of the rates when certain fiscal benchmarks are met with the possibility of eliminating the tax eventually. Senate supporters believe lowering the income tax will lead to economic growth.

But that route toward a deal doesn’t even show up on the navigation system of House Speaker Tim Armstead. The Kanawha County Republican has told the Justice administration and Senate leaders time and again that higher taxes are a non-starter in the House, even if they are accompanied by possible income tax reductions.

But Justice’s team, while negotiating with Armstead, believes there could be an avenue toward agreement—the House Democrats.  Justice is trying to rally support among the 36 Democrats to get behind the Justice/Senate plan. He’s reportedly going to make his pitch to them today.

The Dems will need some convincing. They don’t want to be out front on tax increases without Republican support, fearing that will be used against them in the next election. The Democrats need assurances of a significant number of Republicans.

So here’s the question: How many House Republicans, if any, would be willing to defy their Speaker and support the Justice/Senate plan?  The Governor said last week that some Republicans called to urge him to veto the Republican-passed budget (he did), suggesting they might be open to another pathway.

We know the House Republican caucus is not unified—the breakdown over medical marijuana demonstrated that—but it’s difficult to predict how many members the Justice administration could pick up by lobbying individuals.

To continue with the Governor’s metaphor, for now Iowa remains a long distance away.  It will be challenging, but not impossible, to get there.

Justice Signs Medical Cannabis Act

Legislation will help terminally ill patients in WV

Governor was joined by Senator Ojeda, Senator Woelfel, Delegate Mike Pushkin, and members of the Legislature

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice signed the Medical Cannabis Act (Senate Bill 386). The Governor was joined for the bill signing by two of the initiative’s primary supporters, Senator Richard Ojeda (D-Logan) and Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha), as well as Senator Mike Woelfel (D-Cabell) and Dr. Rahul Gupta the State Health Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Public Health.

The Governor also praised Delegate Michael Folk for his bravery to stand up and let the people’s voice be heard on the floor of the House of Delegates.


West Virginia is now the 29th state to allow the medical use of cannabis.

“West Virginians are compassionate people and this law will help our neighbors who are struggling with illness,” said Governor Jim Justice. “This is a bipartisan effort and I want to thank Senator Ojeda, Senator Woelfel, Delegate Pushkin, and Delegate Folk for leading the charge to get this done. The people were heard loud and clear on this bill.”

Governor Justice added, “How could you turn your back on a loved one who is suffering? This is a vehicle for our doctors to help the people.”

The legislation will allow seriously ill West Virginians to use and access medical cannabis for treatment. Patients will need to have a written certification from their doctor to use medical cannabis. Under the law, West Virginians must register with the health department to purchase medical cannabis from regulated dispensaries. Patients will be able to access the treatment in different forms, including: pills, oils, creams, ointments, gels, tinctures, and liquid.

Terminally ill patients, given one year or less to live, will be eligible for medical cannabis. In addition, cannabis can be prescribed to West Virginians suffering from chronic health conditions, for example Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, PTSD, and cancer.​​​

G-OpEd™: Tremendous Victories Require Continued Vigilance

An op-ed by WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

The Free Press WV

Over the past few months, West Virginia has experienced a tremendous amount of success in beating back years of federal overreach that have devastated many in our state.

One of the greatest victories involved my office leading a coalition of 27 states and state agencies against the so-called Clean Power Plan, put in place by the Obama Administration to effectively kill coal – the lifeblood of so many families and communities in our state.

Together, we stopped the Power Plan in its tracks with a historic and unprecedented victory at the U.S. Supreme Court. We also mounted a vigorous challenge to the job-killing Obama regulations that attempted to kill new power plants, stymie oil and natural gas production and regulate a property owner’s roadside ditch as a “water of the United States.”

The Constitution and the laws of the United States provide no authority for unelected bureaucrats to enact this type of control over states and citizens. That’s why our office joined with like-minded attorneys general from across the nation. We successfully stopped these regulations and our efforts built a bridge to a better day.

We applaud President Trump’s swift action to unravel this mess of federal overreach, however, now is not the time to rest on our laurels.

I fully expect the opposition to fight back, but this battle won’t be fought any longer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – it will be waged by states such as California, New York and Massachusetts.  They will try to replicate our success in suing the federal government and undo the good we have done.

Our batting average taking on federal overreach is strong. My office led the way to stop the Power Plan, which amounted to a radical transformation of the EPA from serving as an environmental regulator into a central energy planning authority aimed at devastating coal communities and those who depend upon coal’s future.

We also stopped the Waters of the United States rule that gave the federal government unprecedented control over small streams, farms and private property in a land grab focused on areas where water may flow once every 100 years. In addition, we forced reconsideration of a methane emissions regulation for natural gas producers, which places oil and natural gas in the federal government’s crosshairs under the guise of environmental protection.

There will continue to be naysayers and people who disagree – people who would call these successes failures or say we are going in the wrong direction, but West Virginians know better.

We are winning, but we need to remain in a position to move forward, aggressively marching on and into the next battle – whatever it may be. At a minimum, we need to stop our opponents from preventing the successful repeal or reconsideration of these onerous rules.

But to continue to prevail, we need adequate funding to fix the mess the Obama Administration left behind. We won’t keep winning unless we are fully equipped and prepared to continue advocating for West Virginia’s interests.

With President Trump in office, I have faith that we can stop the federal bureaucracy from running roughshod over our state as it has in recent years. But that alone is not enough.

We must keep the faith, press forward and continue to do everything in our power to help West Virginia reach her full potential.

Attorney General Morrisey Offers Tips for Planning A Trouble-Free Summer Vacation

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reminds consumers to be cautious when making travel plans as summertime fast approaches.

Vacationers often look toward summer as the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends and family, explore new places or revisit their favorite destination.

“Warmer weather gets many people thinking about summer travel,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Whether it is a theme park, a cruise or some other destination, consumers must be cautious so as to avoid any potential scams.”

To avoid falling prey to any scams, consumers should get reviews from reputable travel websites and/or family and friends. Also, remember paying with credit cards gives consumers certain protections to dispute charges.

Consumers should additionally validate physical addresses as opposed to simply clicking on a good deal. Third-party links can redirect consumers to an independent booking agency that charges additional fees.

Additional tips include:

  • Be wary of any company that asks for payment via money order or pre-paid debit card.

  • Be wary of ads that offer a luxurious vacation for a minimal price and ads that provide few details. 

  • Be cautious of firms that ask for payment before confirming reservations. Most reputable travel agents will confirm before payment.

  • Deal with established companies.  Check with friends, family or other resources if the name or reputation is not familiar.

  • Know cancellation and refund policies.

  • Keep a close eye on banking statements during and following travel.

  • Be wary of vacation offers that are “good today only.”

  • The better a vacation package sounds, the more important it is to verify the details.

Consumers with questions can contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1.800.368.8808, the Eastern Panhandle Consumer Protection Office in Martinsburg at 304.267.0239 or visit the office online at www.wvago.gov.

Governor and First Lady Justice Announce Plans For Annual Easter Carnival

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice and First Lady Cathy Justice announced plans for the 2017 Easter Carnival on Saturday, April 15, 2017 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the North Plaza of the State Capitol Complex.

“Cathy and I are looking forward to continuing this annual Easter tradition, and we hope West Virginians from across the state will plan to join us to kick off the spring season in the Mountain State,” Governor Justice said. “We have planned a day full of fun, family-friendly activities, including the seventh annual A. James Manchin Memorial Marble Tournament at the Culture Center.”

“Jim and I invite West Virginians of all ages to join us for this fun-filled celebration of the season,” First Lady Justice said. “The State Capitol is the perfect place for families to gather and enjoy the holiday in a unique and fun way . We look forward to continuing this wonderful tradition, and we hope that this year’s Easter Carnival will be the biggest one yet.”

The North Plaza of the State Capitol Complex will be transformed into an Easter Carnival complete with games, prizes, crafts, food and an appearance by the Easter Bunny.  The event is free of charge and open to the public. Door prizes for children 12 years old and under will be awarded at noon. 

Immediately following the Easter Carnival, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will host the seventh annual A. James Manchin Memorial Marble Tournament.  For more information about the tournament, contact Chris Reed, cultural program specialist for the Division, at 304.558.0220 x 185.

Caution During Last-Minute Tax Filing

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reminds consumers to take their time filling out tax information in order to avoid any missteps as the April 18 filing deadline quickly approaches.

“Many people don’t file taxes until the end of the season,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “It’s always better to take your time than rush and make a mistake when dealing with such sensitive information.”

Mistakes made this week can turn into potential headaches down the road.

The Attorney General advises consumers to follow some simple steps to avoid any last-minute mistakes:

  • File electronically. It’s time efficient, safer and ensures a faster tax refund.
  • Double check information. 
  • If mailing a tax return, double check the federal and state mailing addresses at IRS.gov and tax.wv.gov. 
  • Make sure to validate the legitimacy of any tax preparer or tax filing service.
  • Shred any discarded documents that contain personal information. Doing so makes it harder for thieves to steal information.
  • Be aware of scammers who claim to be IRS representatives as they request personal information. Scammers often make these requests with threat of arrest or lawsuit, but consumers should not comply.

Questions can be directed to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800.368.8808 or 304.267.0239 in Martinsburg. To file a report online, go to www.wvago.gov.

Public Called to Weigh In on WV State Budget

The end of the regular legislative session has set the stage for a fight over West Virginia’s state budget – a battle organizers say might be settled by public opinion.
The Free Press WV

At the last moment, the State Legislature passed a budget with deep cuts to to Medicaid and to K-12 and higher education. Now community groups are saying the voices of West Virginians are going to be vital to resolving the state’s budget standoff.

The Republican leadership of both the House and Senate backed the bill, but Governor Jim Justice is likely to veto it. He favors a plan that would raise revenue from a temporary tax on businesses, as well as broader and higher sales taxes.

Tara Martinez, an organizer with the coalition Protect WV, said which plan wins out may depend on public opinion.

“Visit with our legislators, write letters, write op-eds, call,” Martinez said. “That is going to be crucial. We as citizens really want a budget that has vision and growth in mind.“

Martinez said the Legislature should be back in session in about two weeks to hash out a tax and spending plan. In the meantime, she said there’s a page on the Protect WV website where folks can enter their address and their comments or opinions - which are then sent automatically to the correct lawmakers for their district.

The differing budget plans represent deep philosophical differences about how the state should address its huge budget shortfall.

The GOP majority in the Legislature argues that smaller government with lower taxes would bring faster economic and job growth. But after years of budget cuts, Martinez said she thinks it’s time to invest in education and infrastructure.

She said even the head of the state Chamber of Commerce and a large faction of West Virginia business owners accept the governor’s temporary business tax.

“They know, being business-oriented folks, that it’s time for them to make investments,” Martinez said. “We’re at a crucial point in the state, where it’s sink or swim. So, they are willing to give a little more, as long as everyone’s giving.“

A poll by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy before the legislative session began found that 70 percent of voters in the state favored higher taxes to pay for investments in education, infrastructure and workforce development.

Secretary Warner Attends First Board of Public Works Meeting

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner participated in the first meeting of the Board of Public Works of 2017 and his first since taking office January 16.

Warner was joined by Governor Jim Justice, who chairs the Board of Public Works. Also attending were State Treasurer John Perdue, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Paine.

The Free Press WV
(L-R) Secretary of State Mac Warner, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Governor Jim Justice, State Treasurer John Perdue, State Auditor J.B. McCuskey, and State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Paine.


As Secretary of State, Warner serves as secretary for the Board. Warner also presented board members and meeting attendees with a copy of the minutes from the first Board of Public Works meeting from September 04, 1863 (included below).

The Board approved the minutes from three previous meetings. The Board also certified tax rates on each class of property, and approved several deeds transferring property between state entities.

The six elected state constitutional officers - Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer, Attorney General, and Commissioner of Agriculture - plus the State Superintendent of Schools together make up the Board of Public Works, which is established by law as a public corporation.

The Legislature chose to assign certain responsibilities to a group of high officials answerable to the voters rather than to a single official or executive agency. Among those important duties are:

     
  • Approval of the purchase, transfer or sale of state real property
  •  
  • Assessment of public utility property
  •  
  • Approval of bonds prior to issuance by a state department or institution, county, board of education or municipality
  •  
  • Establishment of the levies on property at the rates set by law

Learn more about the Board of Public Works by clicking HERE .

WV Senate Bill Makes Secret Election Money Problem Even Worse

U.S. SUPREME COURT GAVE PERSON HOOD TO AMERICAN CORPORATIONS TO DONATE ENDLESS MONEY TO U.S. CAMPAIGNS
The Free Press WV

The West Virginia Senate passed a major campaign finance overhaul bill (SB 539) that would allow even more big money in our elections, and create new loopholes to make it harder for West Virginians to know who is trying to influence our votes. This secret money bill, SB539, weakens our disclosure laws while allowing more money into an already out of balance system that favors the wealthy and special interests. For example, the bill would require less disclosure for spending on independent expenditures by raising the spending thresholds that require groups to report and disclose their contributors, making it easier for front groups running dirty attack ads can keep their big-money donors secret.

Even worse, the bill also creates new loopholes and worsens existing ones that make it possible for groups that spend money on political ads to hide the identity of their donors.

At the same time, the bill increases the amount of money that can be contributed to candidates by nearly three times, the amount of money that can be contributed to PACs by five times, and the amount the can be contributed to party committees by 10 times.

That means state and local elections that suddenly look more like the worst big-money congressional elections. The bill also allows transfers of money between certain entities that aren’t allowed under current law, making the job of average West Virginians trying to figure out who their candidates are accountable to even harder.

This bill completely fails to address the flood of secret money in our elections. After spending $5.6 million during the previous presidential election year, outside groups reported spending nearly $20 million to influence West Virginia elections in 2016.

Although the spending itself was disclosed, its origin most often was hidden behind the very loopholes and money transfers that SB 539 makes even worse. In fact, many groups spending money on our elections listed no other contributors on their financial disclosures other than the sponsoring organization, while others filled our mailboxes and airwaves without filing a single report with either the Secretary of State or the Federal Election Commission.

Although SB 539 increases disclosure in some small ways, like requiring PACs and entities making independent expenditures to file reports electronically, the overall effect of the bill would be disastrous for ordinary working West Virginians who can’t afford to compete with wealthy special interests.

Unfortunately, both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate rejected opportunities to support an equal voice in our elections for everyday — amendments offered by Senators Mike Romano, D-Harrison, and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, that would have required disclosure of “dark money” by closing the “covered transfers” loophole, which currently allows wealthy donors and special interests to funnel money through multiple PACs and organizations in order to obscure its origin.

We need more disclosure in our elections, NOT more money. If the West Virginia Legislature wants to discourage negative attack ads, give candidates the ability to respond, and inform voters about who’s trying to influence their votes, the best thing they can do is support transparency and require those who are spending money on our elections to disclose the source of the money. We deserve to know who’s trying to influence our votes and persuade our public officials, not be kept in the dark.

Secret money has no place in West Virginia elections. West Virginians stand up for what they believe in. The House of Delegates should reject the secret money bill, SB 539.

Julie Archer and Natalie Thompson are co-coordinators of WV Citizens for Clean Elections


04.07.2017
NewsWest VirginiaUnited StatesPolitics | Government | ElectionState-WVUSA(1) Comments

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~~~ Readers' Comments ~~~

This is totally unacceptable.
EVERY elected that voted for this needs spanked and sent home.

This is not good for West Virginia as a whole, just a self given gift for the political class.

Shameless group of money grabbers.

By Legislators Selling Out our State  on  04.07.2017

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Lawmakers Want Schools To Teach More About Founding Documents

The Free Press WV

Earlier this session, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed legislation and sent it to the Senate requiring public schools to dedicate a week to the specific study of the concepts of freedom and liberty.

West Virginia already has a requirement in code (18-2-9) that the Constitution be taught in civics class, but HB 3080 includes a more detailed prerequisite.

The bill designates “Celebrate Freedom Week” for early September each year, when social studies classes must include “in-depth study of the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights.”

The bill also requires high school students to take a test that is “the same as or substantially similar to the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service” to measure their achievement in civics.

This is a growing trend across the country.  The Associated Press reports “Kentucky last week and Arkansas on March 16 became the latest of more than a dozen states since 2015 that have required the high school studies curriculum to include material covered by the 100 questions asked on the naturalization exam.”

It would be presumptuous to assume what the late Senator Robert Byrd would have said about this trend, but we know he revered the Constitution, carried a well-worn copy in his breast pocket and lamented how little many Americans knew about the document.

In his biography “Child of the Appalachian Coalfields,” Byrd referred to a lecture he gave in Morgantown in 1998 where he cited poll numbers showing “only 66 percent (of Americans) recognized that the first ten amendments to the Constitution constitute the Bill of Rights; 85 percent mistakenly believed that the Constitution says, ‘All men are created equal’.”

“They tell us that while our educational system is good at ingraining feelings of respect and reverence for our Constitution, that same system is apparently very poor at teaching just what is actually in the Constitution and just why it is so important,” Byrd said.

It was Senator Byrd who attached an amendment to an omnibus spending bill in 2004 that designates September 17 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

It is reasonable, however, to question the extent to which West Virginia’s Legislature should dictate to the public school system what to teach and how to teach it.  The Department of Education maintains considerable autonomy and, in theory at least, is governed by the state Board of Education and local school boards.

If the bill becomes law, there will no doubt be some grousing by civics teachers who already devote considerable time to the founding documents or resent being told by politicians what is best way to teach government and history.

That’s understandable, but the values and principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are the bedrock of our country and our culture. Comprehending them is the key to truly knowing what it means to be a citizen of this country.

Governor Justice Proclaims April as Safe Digging Month

The Free Press WV

Governor Jim Justice has issued a proclamation announcing April as Safe Digging Month.  Governor Justice and the Public Service Commission of West Virginia encourage all West Virginians to call 811 before every digging project.

“As the temperature rises and our lawns and gardens start to grow, we find ourselves planning outdoor projects,” said Governor Justice.  “By calling 811 before digging, homeowners and professionals are making a conscious effort to ensure their personal safety and prevent unnecessary utility service interruptions.  Whether you are planting a tree, building a deck or just putting in a new mailbox, all digging projects should start with a call to 811.”

811 is a free utility line location service that protects you and your neighbors’ safety and the integrity of underground utility lines near your home.  When you call 811 you will be connected to a local notification center that will take your information and communicate it to utility companies in your area.  Professional locators will then visit the dig site to mark the approximate location of underground utility lines with spray paint or flags of various colors marking the different utilities.  If a contractor is doing the work, confirm that a call to 811 has been made.  Don’t allow work to begin if the lines aren’t marked. 

If outdoor projects that require digging are in your spring plans, call 811 at least two full work days before you dig.  If you do hit a buried utility line, especially gas, call 911 immediately.  Utility lines, including water, sewer and gas pipelines as well as communication lines can be just a few inches below the surface because of erosion and other topography changes.  Digging without knowing the approximate location of underground utilities increases the likelihood of unintentional damage, service disruptions, costly repairs, serious injuries and even death.  Don’t assume you know where the utility lines are located.

After the marking has been done you can begin your project with confidence. In West Virginia, you can also call 800.245.4848 or visit www.WV811.com for more information.

Minnesota Boomed by Raising Taxes; Could it Work in WV?

The Free Press WV

West Virginia lawmakers are looking at flattening or phasing out state income taxes. But the state of Minnesota increased taxes on the wealthy, and their economy is booming.

Several states, including Kansas and Wisconsin, have slashed taxes on higher income households in hopes of sparking growth. But under Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota went the opposite direction, and the state’s economy is now growing faster than in those states where tax cuts were deployed.

Minnesota’s unemployment rate is a full point below the national level, and its growth rate is a full percent above average. Clark Biegler, policy analyst with the Minnesota Budget Project, said it was a big tax hike, but it paid for investments in education.

“So it was a two percentage point increase for the 2 percent of Minnesotans with the highest income,” Biegler said. “We’ve been able to fund free all day kindergarten, to improve financial aid for low income students, and we were actually able to institute a two-year tuition freeze.“

In spite of a huge budget gap, West Virginia’s Republican-led Legislature is debating bills that could get rid of the state’s progressive income tax - largely replacing it with more sales taxes. Backers have said they hope it would bring more businesses and growth.

Biegler said Minnesota’s tax hike helped turn a $1 billion two-year budget shortfall into a $1.8 billion surplus. And the state added nearly 50,000 jobs last year. She said investing in the workforce through education helped put the state in Forbes magazine’s top five for quality of life and economic climate.

“Deficits can create opportunities. Minnesota has found that raising revenues - increasing our income tax - has laid a foundation for us to make really important investments in our state,” she said.

By comparison, PolitiFact has reported that Wisconsin is facing a two-year, $2.2 billion budget shortfall. And The Kansas City Star reported that Kansas has an $800 million deficit for fiscal year 2016.

~~  Dan Heyman ~~

So, What Exactly Is the Status of Budget Talks?

The Free Press WV

One of the most commonly asked questions at the State Capitol now is, “What’s the latest on the budget?” The answer is complicated, and here’s why.

You cannot narrow the discussion to one particular plan because there isn’t one. There are multiple plans, frameworks, concepts and proposals being floated by Governor Justice and lawmakers.

These concepts sometimes change rapidly during stakeholder meetings. What appears to be on the table going into a meeting may come off the table by the time they break up. In the meantime, a totally new concept may have been introduced.

Not all the stakeholders meet at the same time. The Governor or his representatives may meet with House Republican leaders and that will be followed by a caucus where the leaders take the concepts back to their members.

While that is going on, the administration is meeting with Democratic leaders to take their temperature, and they then report to their caucus.

These caucuses are critical because that’s where the leaders can gauge the support or opposition to particular proposals. It’s also where the whips can do some vote counting to try to determine what can pass and what won’t.

The leaders then have to get back to the Governor’s people with what they have learned, and that can start the process all over again.

Additionally, even the principals involved in the discussions often emerge with very different views of what’s on the table. Numerous times in the last few days I’ve had one primary source tell me one thing and another person in the same meeting give me a very different story.

The kind of “shuttle diplomacy” that is taking place is, by its nature, given to misunderstandings, but that’s why you keep it going. The process, when done in good faith, can weed out discrepancies, while zeroing in on what is and what is not in play.

I hear the frustration in the voices of the players, but I’m actually encouraged. They are talking—frequently—and ideas are popping out like the spring blossoms on the Capitol grounds. The posturing has given way to discussion of specifics on how best to spend the limited resources of the state, whether to raise new revenue and, if so, how best to do that.

Like any such discussions, they could blow up at any moment, but I don’t think they will. Legislative leaders and Governor Justice can agree on one thing: a lengthy special session to get a budget for the second year in a row would be a public relations disaster and failing to get a plan by the start of the new fiscal year July 1 would be a catastrophe.

The federal government has budget tricks it can play to keep operating, but West Virginia would have to turn out the lights.

So, I can’t tell you at this moment exactly where the budget talks stand—it’s like trying to zero in on multiple moving targets shrouded in thick fog—but they are trying to get a budget, and they know time is running out.

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