(02/09/2016)
This week marks the half-way point for the 2016 regular session of the West Virginia legislature. Over the next four weeks the House of Delegates and State Senate will begin making decisions on how to allocate funding in the budget for the upcoming year. For most West Virginians, including me, funding for infrastructure projects is at the top of the list of key priorities. The governor's blue ribbon commission on highways released a report last year indicating that West Virginia needed to make an investment of over $1.2 billion in our state's highway infrastructure. In a time when money for investment is scarce and the needs are so great, it is clear that West Virginia will be unable to put money into all the worthwhile places we would like it to go. However, from my perspective, infrastructure maintenance must be our highest priority. Our ability to grow any sector of our economy depends on us having roads, bridges, and an overall transportation system that will allow commerce to flow through West Virginia. I have heard from many folks in our communities who share that philosophy. Over the next few weeks the legislature will be looking hard to find duplications in state government and other areas where state funding isn't being used as wisely as it could be. Those savings will be the first money directed to next year's budget needs.

A number of people from our area have contacted me recently with specific questions about Governor Tomblin's budget proposal for the upcoming year. Of greatest interest seem to be the governor's proposed tax on cell phones and telecommunications services. In his state of the state address, and in his proposed budget for next year, Governor Tomblin proposed a new tax that would apply to cell phone bills and other telecommunications services. Though the governor said that West Virginia is among only a very small number of states without such a tax, most members of the legislature, including me, have little interest in advancing such a proposal. I do not expect such a tax to move forward this year.

One aspect of the legislature's work that often goes unnoticed by many West Virginia's is the approval of all the executive branch agency rules that are promulgated each year. It is important to realize that not all the laws that apply in West Virginia are developed by the legislature. Many are developed by the various agencies in the executive branch of state government. In most states, agencies can simply write new rules, announce them, and then they become the law. In West Virginia, the legislature provides a level of protection for our citizens when it comes to agency rules.

The rule making process for the executive agencies begins in the summer, when a special committee of the legislature beings reviewing each and every rule that an agency wants to adopt. I volunteered to serve on that committee this year and spent three days each month during the summer and fall meeting with the agency representatives to screen the various rules proposed by each agency. Some proposals were good for our communities, such as those that will eliminate outdated or unnecessary rules. Others required some modification by the committee, such as those that proposed to raise fees for basics government services. That process will come to an end this week when the full legislature will our committee's recommendations. The rulemaking process is an important part of how West Virginia's state government works, but it is important to me that we never allow this process to get out of control. I volunteered to serve on the 2016 rulemaking committee to make sure our interests were overlooked as the agency rules were considered.

The budget process and the rulemaking process will both be in full swing this week. If you should happen to find yourself in Charleston this week, please stop in at the capitol for a visit. The regular session this year runs through March 12, 2016. During that time, please feel free to visit my office in Room 229-East of the main capitol building, or contact me at (304)340-3135 or roger.hanshaw@wvhouse.gov

Until next time, have a great week.


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