This week, the Senate Finance Committee took up HB 3300, the House’s personal income tax cut plan, and made significant changes before quickly passing it out of committee.
Unlike the House plan, which phased out the income tax over time with no revenue offsets, the Senate’s plan is more similar to the governor’s proposal, making a substantial cut to the income tax while raising a variety of sales and other taxes. Like the governor’s plan, the Senate’s plan would create a dramatic change in who pays state taxes in West Virginia, shifting the responsibility onto working families to make room for tax breaks for the wealthy. The Senate’s plan would also create an immediate $200 million gap in the budget, which would grow larger as more income tax cuts are enacted, and the income tax is replaced with slower growing sources of revenue.
WVCBP has long been sounding the alarm that eliminating the state personal income tax would devastate the state budget. We recently released an issue brief that explores the facade of West Virginia’s current budget stability, the state’s concerning economic outlook, and how proposals to slash the state income tax would make a fraught budget situation even worse. Key findings are as follows:
You can read the full issue brief here.
We welcome you to join us and send a letter urging legislators to prioritize investing in West Virginia’s families and communities over providing a tax cut to the state’s wealthiest here or join our rally to reject HB 3300 today at 11am outside of the Capitol.
West Virginia’s total incarcerated population dropped significantly in response to COVID-19, but numbers are rising. In mid-March, the jail population had risen to an alarming 144% of maximum capacity.
This overcrowding is egregious at any time, but especially so as we continue to battle an ongoing pandemic. Evidence is clear that correctional facilities are at a heightened risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. National data indicates that people incarcerated in prisons have contracted the virus at a rate four times higher than that of the general population.
Recognizing that prisons and jails pose a unique threat for COVID-19 transmission, other states have been vaccinating incarcerated people or have at least included this population in their plans. West Virginia has not yet done so, leading ACLU of West Virginia and Mountain State Justice to declare their intent to file a lawsuit against the state unless a plan to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for incarcerated people is released by March 31, 2021.
Learn more in Quenton’s full blog post.
A bill recently passed by the West Virginia House, HB 2581, seeks to change how natural gas property is valued for property tax purposes, including allowing for additional expense deductions that would lower the appraised values of oil and gas wells, resulting in an overall tax cut for the industry.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the total impact would be a loss of $9.1 million in property tax revenue, concentrated in the state’s gas producing counties. Since most property tax revenue funds local school districts, this loss of revenue would mean that the state would increase its share of the school aid formula by approximately $1.1 million.
Read Sean’s full blog post.
HB 2017 passed the full House this week and now goes to the Senate Judiciary committee. This bill is a massive criminal sentencing rewrite which would significantly increase incarceration rates and taxpayers’ burden.
Research has repeatedly shown that longer prison sentences do not make us safer. Despite this, HB 2017 would delay the parole eligibility date or increase maximum prison sentences for more than 200 felony crimes.
HB 2017 also does not adequately reflect input from stakeholders like prosecutors, public defenders, judges, advocates, or directly impacted people.
For more on the dangers of HB 2017, check out this blog post from the West Virginia Criminal Law Reform Coalition, this article featuring insight from WVCBP criminal justice policy analyst Quenton King, or this recent op-ed written by our colleague at the American Friends Service Committee.
Despite the fact that needs-based harm reduction efforts are supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and empirically proven to save lives and prevent the spread of disease, SB 334 — a bill that would severely restrict harm reduction programs statewide — has passed out of the full Senate and the House Health and Human Resources committee. It now heads to the House Judiciary committee. If the bill is adopted, it will have not only a severe moral cost, but a dramatic financial cost as well.
West Virginia has long been at the forefront of the overdose epidemic in the US. Since 2010, its death rate per 100,000 by overdose of any type of drug has led the nation. Our recent report, authored by economist Dr. Jill Kriesky, both shows the heavy economic toll this crisis has on West Virginia as a whole and shines a spotlight on Kanawha County, the county with the highest number of overdose deaths in the state.
Among other alarming findings, the report reveals that the overdose crisis cost West Virginia $11.3 billion & Kanawha County $1.7 billion in 2019 alone. These staggering amounts represent nearly 15 percent of the state & county gross domestic products, respectively.
The report includes a brief overview of harm reduction programs designed to address these enormous damages and what is known about their cost-effectiveness. A key staple of harm reduction efforts, syringe services programs, are cited as reducing HIV & Hepatitis C by nearly 50 percent. It is these same services that the West Virginia Legislature is looking to severely restrict through SB 334.
If SB 334 were not enough, harm reduction is also facing attacks at the city-level. Earlier this week, Charleston City Council’s Public Safety committee considered a proposed ordinance that, if adopted, would outlaw currently legal needs-based harm reduction programs like that run by Solutions Oriented Addiction Response (SOAR). The Public Safety Committee amended the ordinance to require a 1-to-1 syringe exchange, as well as the barcoding of syringes. Next week, the full City Council will vote on the ordinance.
If you are a Charleston resident, we invite you to join us in contacting your City Council Member and voicing your support for the full authorization of needs-based harm reduction services.
We at the WVCBP wholeheartedly believe that needs-based harm reduction programs make our communities healthier, safer, and kinder. We would sincerely appreciate if you contacted your Council Member and expressed support for these life-saving programs.
This week, the full House passed HJR 3, which now awaits consideration in the Senate. This legislation seeks to take local property taxation authority away from locally elected officials and send it to Charleston, despite the fact that local governments receive over 99 percent of property tax revenue.
While proponents say this only gives a future legislature the authority to to reduce or eliminate business personal property taxes, it’s been made very clear that this is the ultimate intention, which could cost local governments as much as $500 million annually.
Local property taxes fund public schools and county services. While lawmakers often promise that a future legislature will make counties whole, there is no way to know if state revenues will be available in future years to do that, leaving local public services at great risk.
Urge your legislators to reject these proposals that would take taxing authority away from local governments & voters while setting the stage for expensive tax cuts & cuts to public services here.
Yesterday, SB 387 passed the House Health and Human Resources committee and will now go to full House. This bill would make applicants who test positive for drugs or refuse a drug test ineligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) assistance.
Our blog post from health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé explains how such a policy choice would further stigma, harm vulnerable populations, and contradict public health best practices:
“Rendering benefits contingent on passing a drug test for individuals otherwise eligible for cash assistance does not meaningfully address substance use problems. Instead, it does quite the opposite — drug screening creates barriers for those who may otherwise seek treatment.
“In a state already riddled with budget shortfalls, dedicating resources to an initiative that further stigmatizes individuals with low incomes — while worsening their material conditions — contradicts the core mission of TANF and other social programs, as well as best practices for public health. Rather than punishing TANF recipients by extending the drug screening program, West Virginia must recommit to providing basic assistance to families. Redirecting funds toward these initiatives would better serve low-income families and help create a healthier West Virginia.”
Read Rhonda’s full blog post.
WVCBP’s Summer Policy Institute (SPI) is an annual event for college students and young people interested in bettering West Virginia through policy change. SPI brings together highly qualified traditional and non-traditional college students and young people to build policy knowledge, leadership skills, and networks.
Attendees participate in interactive sessions where they learn the basics of data, policy, and state government and build their organizing and advocacy skills. Throughout the convening, attendees work in small groups to identify and develop policy proposals to shape the future they want to see in West Virginia, culminating in team “policy pitches” to state legislators and policy professionals. Many SPI attendees have gone on to continue advocating for their policy idea and to hold internships with West Virginia non-profits and in state government.
Applications for SPI are being considered through April 30. Further details and link to apply here.
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