The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 28, 2013

Delegates debate merits of economic study group

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Assembling work groups comprised of lawmakers to work with business and potential investors is another approach to shoring up West Virginia’s struggling economy, but five delegates disagreed Wednesday.

Five Republicans voted against HB3013, which triggered a half-hour debate that transcended party lines.

In fact, two members of the GOP — Minority Leader Tim Armstead and Delegate Patrick Lane, both R-Kanawha, spoke in favor of it, after other Republicans assailed its contents.

Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, one of the five opponents, opposed it on grounds that the study group would be “open-ended, with an unlimited number of legislators” to be named by the Senate president and House speaker.

What’s more, she cautioned, the group can meet anywhere and anytime it pleases, at taxpayer expense.

Besides, why is more study needed? she asked.

“We know what the problems are and we know what the answers are,” Sobonya said.

Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, took up the same line, pointing out the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, in this year’s policy recommendations, called for civil justice reforms, tax modernization, a jobs impact statement, health care reforms, and a drug-free work place.

“If we’re serious about jobs creation, many of the answers are already before us,” he said.

Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, advised Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, that the group could go outside West Virginia and examine states with a “Right to Work” law on the books.

“We’re trying to do something positive to create jobs and see what we can do to stimulate that,” Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said in reply to the criticism.

“This is not a cookie cutter situation. We’re trying to find out what businesses we might have that would fit in particular locations or particular situations.”

Boggs suggested the Legislature would be remiss if it didn’t do all it could to attract businesses.

“We would send a terrible message if we would refuse to do what’s right by going out, asking the questions, coming back, putting our heads together in a bipartisan way and looking for solutions that truly benefit the citizens of the state,” he said.

“This is not an end-all. It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a wonderful first step.”

Boggs assured Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, that agriculture would be embraced by the study.

But Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, declared, “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”

What really is needed is an even playing field, he insisted.

“Government needs to stop picking winners and losers,” he said.

“When you pick winners, somebody else on the other side loses.”

Joining Sobonya and Folk in voting against the bill were Delegates Gary Howell,  R-Mineral, Jim Butler, R-Mason, and Larry Kump, R-Berkeley.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com