It is an honor to be back in Charleston representing the great people of the 15th District. Throughout the session, I will be reporting on a host of bills, presentations and information that I feel are important in our efforts to move West Virginia forward.
This year we will grapple with many challenges as the Legislature must face the daunting task of dealing with a slim budget due to the national recession that affected the country last year. This year's budget totals around $11.5 billion, $100 million smaller than last year, which includes $3.7 billion backed by general tax revenues. However, as always the Legislature will work hard to make sure that the well-being of West Virginians are a top priority.
The governor addressed the Legislature and the public with his state of the state address this week, unveiling his legislative agenda which includes:
- Giving the School Building Authority more borrowing flexibility;
- Beginning a public financing pilot project for the two Supreme Court seats that will be open in 2012;
- Establishing a judicial advisory committee to aid the governor in the selection of judges for circuit court vacancies in order to assure that the most qualified candidates retain those positions;
- Re-introducing the school calendar bill that did not pass last session;
- Following a legislative audit, the governor wants to create a Fleet Management Office that will be accountable for the entire state vehicle fleet.
- Allowing cities to collect fees from absentee owners for vacant properties they don't keep up; and
- Funding six additional troopers and support staff for the Crimes Against Children Unit.
The governor also introduced a bill to the Senate which will freeze tuition rates for the coming school year at all technical and four-year colleges throughout the state. The governor wants to ensure that those students who begin their college education end it with a degree rather than being forced out due to financial hardships.
In his address, the governor also told the Legislature that he would like to increase spending on corrections facilities, including the state's new day reporting centers meant as an alternative to prison. Corrections in the state have been of major concern to the Legislature for many years and it is reassuring to see that the governor wants to provide further funding to combat prison overcrowding.
In the area of economic development, the governor said he would recommend a constitutional amendment that would reduce taxes on commercial and industrial properties. Such an amendment would require a statewide public vote. While this could be a nice step to stimulate the economy, we must first locate replacement funds.
West Virginia's economy is expected to lose 2,200 jobs this year, even though employment may pick up steam during the second half of 2010 as the national economy rebounds.
Manufacturing jobs are expected to stabilize - a stark contrast to the massive layoffs recorded from 2003 to 2008. Last year alone, the state lost 5,900 manufacturing jobs amid the recession.
Overall, the state lost 22,600 jobs from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. The state's unemployment rate doubled over the past year. Only two sectors showed an increase in jobs - government and health care. We must work this session to create jobs for our residents so that all West Virginians have an opportunity to prosper.
The West Virginia Legislature has both Facebook and Twitter accounts that are updated constantly throughout the legislative session. We work hard to find new and innovative ways to be transparent as we do our work. I hope that you will take advantage of these exciting new ways to follow our progress on a daily, hourly and sometimes minute-to-minute basis.
I encourage you to tell me what you think about this or any other issue affecting our state and our district. You can write to me at Clark S. Barnes, State Senate, West Wing, Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, W.Va. 25305. You can e-mail me at email@example.com. You can also call my Charleston office at 304-357-7973.