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Justice calls special session of legislature

CHARLESTON – Not content to wait for the start of the annual 60-day legislative session on Wednesday, Gov. Jim Justice issued a proclamation Saturday night calling lawmakers into special session starting Monday morning.

The proclamation and press release were distributed at 10:22 p.m. Saturday, with lawmakers slated to gavel in at 11 a.m. Monday. Justice announced he would introduce six bills, including bills dealing with tax incentives for heavy industry and new funding for the Department of Economic Development.

According to the proclamation, the first bill will create tax incentives based on certain investments and employment commitments aimed at new and current heavy industries that require substantial investments of capital and labor. The Governor’s Office called the bill the “West Virginia Industrial Advancement Act.”

“Recruiting additional businesses to the state and helping existing West Virginia businesses to expand their operations and add employees to their payrolls are the best hope for West Virginia’s and West Virginians’ futures,” the press release stated. “When attempting to recruit businesses today, states compete with one another.”

“In the past, other states with larger budgets have often offered incentives that price West Virginia out of the market. NOT ANYMORE! When we find a good prospect offering investment, jobs, and growth, therefore, it is paramount that the state does its best to compete for that business — for investment, jobs, and growth,” the release continued.

It’s unclear what specific companies and industries these tax incentives are aimed at, though the Governor’s Office teased the announcement this week for “potential investments.” During his Thursday COVID-19 briefing, Justice teased a possible announcement at 7 p.m. Wednesday when he delivers his sixth State of the State address in the House of Delegates chamber.

“I really encourage you to tune in and to watch, because there is going to be some major announcements at the State of the State and more and more goodness coming to the State of West Virginia,” Justice said. “I know we’re going to report some really, really exciting news that’s going to be happening in West Virginia.”

The second through sixth bills would reduce line-item appropriations within the state Department of Health and Human Resources and Department of Homeland Security and transfer those appropriations to the Department of Economic Development.

“The appropriations the Governor is requesting the Legislature to make will be used by our Department of Economic Development to secure tremendous private investment all around the state,” the Governor’s press release stated. “These appropriations will mark the largest investment in economic development in this state’s history, and will pay untold dividends in recruiting businesses, their employees and families, and further private investment in West Virginia.”

The reduced funding for DHHR and Homeland Security would be replaced with available federal COVID-19 dollars. According to the State Auditor’s Office, the state still has $20.1 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (C.A.R.E.S.) Act funds. The deadline to spend those remaining dollars was extended to Sept. 30 of this year instead of the end of 2021.

The state received $1.25 billion in C.A.R.E.S. Act funds in March 2020. The state received another $1.36 billion from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), passed by Congress in March 2021. The funds can be used for coronavirus-related expenditures and reimbursements, as well as broadband, water, and related infrastructure projects. The state received the first $677 million in May.

The Department of Economic Development would receive additional funding from the nearly $400 million in tax revenue surplus for the first six months of fiscal year 2022 that began in July. Year-to-date tax revenue was $2.5 billion, which was 18.7% more than the $2.1 revenue estimate from the Department of Revenue.

It was also unclear how much money would be shifted around from the various appropriations and how much money would come from the current tax revenue surplus.

Lawmakers are already slated to gavel in at noon Wednesday, Jan. 12, for the state of the annual 60-day legislative session. Lawmakers arrived at the State Capitol Building Sunday for the start of January legislative interim meetings.

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