Thursday, April 1st, was the 51st day of the West Virginia legislative session, with less than two weeks remaining. This is the first time in eight years that I have not been in the House of Delegates and I have to say that in most regards I am happy to be home working on projects I could not finish while in the legislature. I want to say how appreciative I have been to represent the people of the 14th Delegate District. As I always said as I wrote legislative updates, I was truly honored to serve you! As you may know I did not seek re-election to the House and I was not successful in my run for the Senate. While I am no longer there I still pay attention to what is happening when I can.
I have held off writing about this session but some legislation has passed in the last couple weeks that I just think you need to know about. Senate Bill 9 was introduced by Senator Tarr, who represents the Fourth Senatorial District, which is our area. It is a bill to allocate one hundred million dollars to the Racetrack Modernization Fund. This is basically a shift of money away from education, senior citizen services, Promise Scholarship, and other worthy causes to the racetrack casinos to buy new slot machines and equipment. I was very disappointed to see that this bill passed with support of Senators Tarr and Grady, as well as Delegates Higginbotham and Wamsley, all who represent us. They are fellow Republicans, but I have always been concerned about policy rather that party politics. Just so there is no misunderstanding, the Democrat majority established gambling subsidies a long time ago when they were in the majority. Delegate Pinson was the only one of our representatives to oppose this new special interest spending. I will say that several senators did switch their votes after the plan was exposed, Senator Grady was among those, but the bill did pass.
Explanations for the vote I have heard are that this revenue was generated in the casinos so they were just giving the tax money back to them. That is a good point, but while the mechanism may be different, any business or individual is similarly taxed. I am sure there are many small businesses in our area that would like to have the state return their tax payments. Still trying to survive in this epidemic I’m sure local businesses would like to upgrade their equipment. Another argument was that the gambling industry is over taxed. They are taxed at a rate of 54% if I remember correctly. They are taxed at this rate for a few reasons. First, the state actually owns the rights to lottery and gambling in West Virginia; this is established in the state constitution. Another reason for the current tax rate is because it was “sold” to the public that the rate would be set to bring large amounts of money to the list of worthy causes, which include education, senior citizen services, etcetera. Finally, it is known that a certain amount of the population will become addicted to gambling, therefore the tax rate is set to allow for gambling addiction treatment. I wonder if those arguing that the rate is too high think that a smaller percentage of gambling profits should go to those worthy causes.
In my eight years in the legislature I never had a constituent say to me that I should work to expand gambling and subsidies to that industry. Most requests that I received were to improve roads, and while lottery money cannot go directly to roads, it can be done in a round about way. Other issues were also important to constituents, but never gambling subsidies. Other similar subsidies to the gambling industry are on hundred fifty-million dollars over the next ten years for greyhound breeding and purses, and one hundred million dollars over the next ten years for horse and dog race tracks. Incredibly now the House is about to pass a bill, House Bill 3309, to allocate tax dollars to update the limited video lottery machines at the local “coffee” shops in our neighborhoods. This will probably happen early next week. Is that really their priority? More importantly is it your priority?
These are just a few of the issues that concern me greatly. As the legislature continues to grow the size of government and spend more of your money they are also considering sweeping tax shifts, expanded access to marijuana, and one good bill, in my opinion, legislation to protect our 2nd amendment rights, which is unfortunately held up in committee. If any of these issues concern you I’d recommend that you contact your representatives, or the governor’s office, very soon. The legislative session is about to wrap up for the year and once the bill passes, or fails, it is too late to make your preference known.
If anyone needs help getting details on any of this let me know. All of these bills and roll call of votes is readily available online. I got involved in politics as a concerned citizen; I hope to use what I have learned to advance good public policy, and to support truly conservative candidates. My home number is 304 675-3984. I’m often working until dark but I will help when I can.
Jim Butler is a resident of Mason County and formerly represented the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.