By Steve Novotney
First, they’ll need to figure out the new office assignments and leadership roles within the West Virginia Legislature, and then the state Republicans’ agenda in-waiting – for more than eight decades – will take hold of the regular session very quickly when the session convenes tomorrow.
Forced pooling; tort reform suggestions; Right to Work proposals; prevailing wage laws; public education; the projected $200 million hole in the state’s budget; to name a few.
Perhaps, change will occur. A lot of change.
November’s Election Day provided much change for residents of the Third House District in Wheeling and Ohio County. While Republican Del. Erikka Storch was returned to the people’s seat for a third time, newcomer Shawn Fluharty captured the other position representing the district.
Wheeling residents will continue to be represented in the Senate by Sen. Jack Yost, but former delegate Ryan Ferns will now serve the citizens of the 1st Senatorial District.
The three lawmakers met with local constituents last week in Wheeling, and the majority of the expressed concerns involved the gas and oil industries, as well as local roadways.
“Pretty much the same concerns I have heard since I was first elected,” said Storch. “The roads have been No. 1 since my first day. The people in the Third District have local roads, state roads and highways, and the interstates, so they are exposed to the issues on all of them.
“It’s no secret that our state has a lot of issues with our infrastructure, so I am sure that will be the topic of a lot of conversations during the regular session,” the lawmaker said. “There are a lot of issues to examine, and I know the new leadership has been working very hard since Election Day to prepare to address as much as we can in 60 days.”
Fluharty, a Wheeling attorney who campaigned for the delegate position twice before, traveled to the state capital with a pair of priorities in mind, including the increase of severance taxes on the harvesting of gas and oil and the state’s budget.
“I believe the biggest issue we have in West Virginia is the budget, and that is why Gov. Tomblin has said there will be no more cuts after the past years when everything was cut,” he said. “Dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for $100 million to balance the budget should be inexcusable to the people of our state, and I don’t think it should happen again.
“Increasing the severance tax on gas and oil is long overdue, and I would think it would be acceptable to the Republicans in our state because it would add revenue for the general fund without raising the taxes on the people of West Virginia,” Fluharty said. “The way it is now, the gas and oil companies are taxed at 5 percent, and that’s less than what our state’s citizens pay for our clothes in the stores in our state. That just doesn’t make much sense to me.
“My goal is to be as prepared as possible for the regular session in January so when I join Del. Storch in Charleston, I’ll be ready to represent the people of the Third District,” Fluharty continued. “That’s why the voters chose me rather than the other two on the ballot, so that’s what I am getting ready to do.”
James Guy, a Wheeling resident and member of the Democratic Party, said he hopes to see how the state’s GOP plans to make the Mountain State a more friendly environment to business and job opportunities.
“West Virginians have heard now for more than 80 years that the state could feature a more business-friendly atmosphere, so that’s what I hope happens,” he said. “As long as what they enact is not detrimental to the citizens of the state, I’ll be open to almost anything because that’s what the state needs right now.
“There’s a hole in the budget after two years of across-the-board cuts because of the elimination of taxes under Joe Manchin, so it’s my hope that they fix what he did, get the budget balanced, and adopt legislation that will add jobs to the state’s economy,” Guy said. “Democrats didn’t do it, and our Republicans say they have the right ideas. Let’s hope for all of us that they do because it’s needed more now than ever.”