Published On: Wed, Mar 19th, 2014

From the Desk of Delegate Walker – March 19th, 2014

During the 2014 Regular Session the House of Delegates and state Senate each worked for 60 days to represent their districts and the people who elected them in addressing the many issues facing West Virginia.  Of the 1,846 bills introduced this session, 200 passed and have been sent to the governor for his approval,

Early in the session, a chemical leak into the water supply for residents of nine counties around Kanawha County caused a state of emergency to be called and tainted the water.  As a result, the focus of the session shifted as we worked to ensure incidents like that would never happen again.  We passed unanimously Senate Bill 373, the water protection legislation.

This bill was a response and a result of the causes of water crisis here in Kanawha County and the regulation of above-ground storage tanks, but it also makes clear the requirements regarding source water protection plans and includes many other key aspects. The state Department of Environmental Protection must develop regulations for the tanks and the Bureau for Public Health is to study the long-term health effects of exposure to the current spill.

Another big issue related to the creation of the so-called “Future Fund”. Senate Bill 461 would create a Future Fund that saves severance tax revenue from extraction industries for generations to come while also maintaining a balanced state budget with a healthy Rainy Day Fund as a first priority.

As introduced and passed by the Senate, the legislation would have required that once the annual oil and gas severance tax revenue reaches $175 million, 25 percent of the amount above that level go into the Future Fund. That transfer would have taken place before the Rainy Day Fund level is calculated.  The House approach requires that first, the Rainy Day Fund be fully funded; second, no Rainy Day Funds are used to balance the budget; and third, no mid-year budget reductions or hiring freezes will be needed. Once those terms are met, three percent of revenue from the severance taxes on coal, sandstone limestone, and oil and natural gas is set aside in the Future Fund.

This will still build upon our existing reserves and protect future budgets from the types of cuts we are having to contemplate now.  Had a similar provision been in place in the 1970’s for coal we would be sitting on a pile of reserve money.  This stance also will go a long way toward protecting the state’s credit rating which we use for infrastructure projects, among other things.

The Legislature also passed a bill which will increase the state-only minimum wage and impact over 100,000 hard-working West Virginians trying to make ends meet.  House Bill 4283 will raise the minimum wage by 75 cents in 2015 to $8.00 an hour, and another 75 cents in 2016.

Work here isn’t done, however, and we continue to discuss the budget for next year while also hoping to eliminate some shortfalls in critical programs for this year.  State budgets run from July 1st  to June 30th every year and we are experiencing some tight financial times but I will work to ensure that we try to balance the budget while being fiscally responsible and also maintaining critically important services for our children, seniors, veterans and workers.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues or bills before the legislature please feel free to contact me. To write me, my address is Delegate David Walker, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 203-E, Charleston, WV 25305. Or you may call me at (304) 340-3135. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process.