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W.Va. lawmakers meet with business leaders

January 19, 2001

W.Va. lawmakers meet with business leaders



By CHUCK MASON / Tri-State Editor


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Eastern Panhandle lawmakers told business leaders Friday morning they will attempt to craft legislation geared toward solving the unique problems growth brings to Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties in West Virginia.

They, in turn, were told by the business leaders not to consider tax increases despite the last state budget being balanced with proceeds from a windfall tobacco settlement and liquor money.

"We have to be smarter in the way we spend our money," said Mike Caryl of the Eastern Panhandle Business Association.

"One size doesn't fit all in West Virginia," said state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley at the Annual Legislative Breakfast held by the Chamber of Commerce of Martinsburg and Berkeley County at the Holiday Inn.

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"We need more local control. Give us the tools so we can solve our own problems," Unger said.

He said the problems confronting the rest of West Virginia don't match with the concerns in the Eastern Panhandle.

Solutions to local problems are being worked on for the upcoming regular session of the Legislature, although state Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, admitted the Legislature could find itself in a special session later this year if a landmark ruling on public education is finalized.

For the short-term, Unger said, although West Virginia has had a Local Powers Act in place for about a decade, not one county in the state has been able to use it because of the conditions imposed on county governments. He'd like to adjust the law so that counties have more flexibility.

In West Virginia, he said, if the Legislature doesn't create a power for municipalities or counties, those governments can't create it themselves.

In light of the announced 3 percent cutback and tight state finances, Douglas said so-called "gray machines" might be one source of state revenue. Gov. Bob Wise said this week in Shepherdstown, W.Va., he would explore taxing the gambling machines.

Douglas said the gray machines could be taxed, or, if they are not sought for state revenue, outlaw them.

State Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said he's concerned about the machines.

"It disturbs me to rely on gambling revenues to balance the budget," he said.

Other business concerns in West Virginia - tort reform, Worker's Compensation privatization, public education and prevailing wage rates - were mentioned in the two-hour breakfast

Douglas said the Legislature is awaiting the finalization of a 27-year-old court challenge to current public education funding, a decision by Judge Arthur Recht of Ohio County. Until that is finalized, Douglas said, "I don't expect to see a whole lot of reconfiguring of education dollars."

Unger said he and others are working with the West Virginia School Building Authority to change the way it considers projects for funding.

Right now, growth in a public school system is not figured into the formula for SBA dollars. A proposal being looked at would count growth in a formula that determines who receives the limited state money.

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