By W.Va. Senate
President Bill Cole
Just about a year ago this week, a new majority was about to take over in Charleston for the first time in 83 years. To say that expectations of this majority were unprecedented would be an understatement, but after a 60-day session of hard work with many long days and nights, we were able to pass 262 bills – all with bipartisan support.
With the support of both Republicans and Democrats, we were able to pass many landmark bills dealing with legal reform, the coal mining industry, education, and improving our business and regulatory climate.
West Virginians expected results, and it’s fair to say we delivered them. Our legal reform initiatives got our state removed from the American Tort Reform Association’s “Judicial Hellholes” list. The changes we made to our legal climate led more than one insurance company to lower their insurance rates in the state, which will have the ripple effect of lowering rates for all consumers.
However, now is the time to look toward the future. This week, legislators will make their way back to Charleston and we will begin a new 60-day session. Make no mistake, this will not be a session with a slower pace and a lighter load because it’s one of those “election-year” sessions. West Virginia has many pressing issues, and time is not a luxury we have.
Needless to say, the Legislature has its work cut out for it when it gavels in. The legislation we take up should be driven mostly by the questions: Is this good for West Virginia? And, is it good for West Virginians?
We will accomplish our goals by continuing our good work on legal reforms, reducing our states burdensome regulatory system, developing our much-needed middle mile broadband infrastructure, and by passing a right-to-work law.
West Virginia is facing the worst budget crisis in its history. Current estimates project a $353 million dollar shortfall for this fiscal year, and it’s safe to say it may get worse. Our wages our stagnant, our health care costs are rising, and less than 50 percent of our able bodied workforce is working. This is a recipe for disaster, and we do not have the ability to delay any longer. For the sake of our future, the time to act is now.
We must approve a budget that does not further burden West Virginia’s hardworking families with the mistakes of the past. We cannot simply raise taxes on families and businesses to keep ourselves afloat. Kicking the can down the road fixes nothing, and only leaves our children and our grandchildren to pick up the check.
Our coal severance tax collections have drastically dropped as a result of Obama’s war on coal, and the low price of natural gas has severely curbed production. Though we made some progress for coal miners with the Coal Jobs and Safety Act last year, we cannot change the tide overnight. We must continue to fight for our coal industry and those jobs, and we must do all in our power to tap the vast potential that natural gas represents for the state.
We have all of the tools at hand to send the message that West Virginia is a great place to live, to work, and to do business. Together, with a bipartisan effort, we can take on the challenges that loom ahead.
Senator Bill Cole, R-Mercer
President of the West Virginia Senate.