The final day to sign or veto bills by Governor Jim Justice was marked by a flurry of activity.In classic political fashion, no one got everything they wanted, but just about everyone walked away with a bill of their liking.
One of the most popular bills signed into law by the governor gives tuition assistance to students at two-year community and technical colleges. They must apply for loans and scholarships, but the state will cover the final gap of their tuition payments. The goal is to help young people, or adults changing careers, and put them back to work with new skills.
“That enables them to get back to the marketplace, earn a great living and get their education process or renew their education process for the trades, and skills that are available in our state with the workforce,” said State Sen. Mitch Carmichael, (R) Jackson – Senate President.
While many Democrats also support the community college tuition bill, they departed with Republicans on one big issue. The state’s coal severance tax will be reduced from 5 to 3 percent, but a plan to cut income taxes on all social security recipients, will now only apply to some of them
“Well, unfortunately, we were unable to give our social security recipients a full, 100-percent tax relief. But we were able to give $60 million dollars to coal companies. I think that’s unfortunate. We should focus on our seniors more,” said Del. Andrew Robinson, (D) Kanawha.
Education reforms will have to wait for another day, but money for teacher and school workers pay raises has been earmarked.
“They are now putting the money aside. The money is there for the teachers and I agree with that. They do need there raises. But the people of West Virginia want more for their money than just to give them a raise. So we are going to go back into special session for this,” said Del. Sharon Malcolm, (R) Kanawha.
The governor also signed bills to increase road repair funding, but the exact amount and source of that money are still to be determined.
Now that all the bills from the regular session have been dealt with, it’s time to focus on the upcoming special session on education reform. No dates have been set, but we are likely looking at sometime in May.