The 60 day session of the West Virginia Legislature ended on Saturday, March 10, 2018. This was the first time in 32 years that there was not a special session to complete work on the budget. We streamlined state agencies, provided for reasonable pay raises for state employees, and increased funding for important services; all with no tax increases! We were in a relatively good position to accomplish this because last year we refused to adopt big spending proposals, and we fought off big tax plans, which would have put the brakes on our economy. Evidence indicates this improved economy is largely due to pro-job initiatives of the Trump Administration, as well as better policies enacted at the state level in West Virginia over the last four years. According to a Metro News story dated January 4, 2018; state revenue collections were $106 million above those of last year, with a 30 percent increase in severance tax collections on coal and natural gas production. Personal income tax collections were also up by 5.6 percent.
The revenue estimates for the next five years are good, projecting moderate growth each year. As long as the legislature controls spending, and continues with policies which encourage job creation, the state will be able to meet obligations to citizens. Policies that promote job opportunities also help individuals find work, which makes their lives better, and provides revenue to the state for improved services and infrastructure.
I would like take a moment to correct something. Previously, I had said that Ohio has no severance tax on natural gas. Further research indicates that they do have a tax, it is just calculated on volume, rather than price, and it is very low in comparison to West Virginia. West Virginia charges 5 percent severance tax on the price of first sale of gas at the well head, Ohio has a severance tax of $0.025 per Mcf (thousand cubic feet), while Pennsylvania has impact fees on the well. Long story short; at the “spot price” of $2.67 per Mcf, West Virginia receives four times more income from severance tax than Pennsylvania, and five times more than Ohio. It is easy to see that with much higher taxes already imposed on natural gas in West Virginia, additional taxes could hinder production, and related manufacturing jobs.
I have written in past weeks about many of the bills which were passed in the House. In the final days of the session, we completed legislation by matching up and passing bills between the Senate and the House of Delegates. Bills that pass both “houses” go to the Governor to be signed into law, or to be vetoed; he has 15 days to act upon them.
In review, I think that it has been a very productive session. Here is a partial list of accomplishments: 1). The Legislature has approved re-organization of the State’s prison system to manage the department with lower operating costs to the state and to the counties. We also allocated for pay raises for everyone working there. 2). We eliminated the position of Secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts, which saves $750,000, while transferring programs and services, like professional development, to the existing Department of Education; other programs, like rehabilitation and job training, have been moved to the Department of Commerce. 3). We passed legislation to require any combination of 20 hours of work, volunteer service, or job training for able bodied people, between the ages of 18 and 49, without dependents to qualify for “welfare” benefits; technically called SNAP in this case. 4). We passed bills to help small business startups, without new costly programs. 5). We have protected every law abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms, and clarified where a person can, and cannot, legally carry firearms. 6). A constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in November to allow the Legislature to have oversight of the budget of the Supreme Court. 7). We passed legislation to protect personal property rights, and clarify procedures for natural gas production. 8). More resources have been allocated for drug prevention and treatment; other provisions direct physicians to look to alternative treatment, like physical therapy and chiropractic treatment before prescribing addictive schedule II opioid drugs. Insurance will pay for those treatments if prescribed.9). Our Republican lead legislature provided funding for fair and reasonable pay raises for all state employees, without tax increases and 10). We passed a balanced budget ahead of schedule, using no Revenue Shortfall (aka Rainy Day) money, to put West Virginia on track for a better future for everyone.
As always Mason and Putnam Counties were well represented by students participating in the Page Program.
It has been an intense experience at times, but it is all part of public service. I really appreciate all of the prayers and encouragement; it really means a lot. It is truly an honor to serve you!
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry), represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.