House Passes Economic Development Bill | News, Sports, Jobs

ByRichard C. Sloan

Apr 28, 2022

CHARLESTON — Taking an extra day, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed the final bill on Governor Jim Justice’s special session agenda on Tuesday.

The House passed the 2001 Senate bill, generally relating to funding for infrastructure and economic development projects in the state, in a vote of 76 to 6 with 18 absent or not voting. Bill then heads to the judge’s desk.

But the fate of the bill was uncertain as lawmakers voted at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. In a vote on Monday evening, a motion to suspend constitutional rules that require a bill to be read on three separate days failed 21-66 with 13 absent or not voting. A motion to suspend the constitutional rules requires a vote of four-fifths of the members present.

SB 2001 creates two revolving loan funds for economic development projects and transportation infrastructure projects. A fund through the Economic Development Authority would finance loans for commercial and industrial development projects.

The funds will come from $600 million earmarked for the Department of Economic Development as part of the fiscal year 2023 general revenue budget from recoveries of year-end surpluses. A minimum of $200 million can be used to fund high-impact development projects.

The other fund, through the Department of Transportation, would create a $200 million infrastructure investment reimbursement fund to cover reimbursement for transportation projects. The fund itself would be repaid with federal funds as they become available.

The bill was in second reading on Tuesday morning. A second motion to suspend the constitutional rules passed by a vote of 71 to 13 with 16 absent or not voting, meeting the requirement of four-fifths of the members present. Of the. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, voted against suspending the constitutional rule Monday night but changed his vote Tuesday morning.

“I… urge that the rules be suspended so that we can get past this bill,” said Fast. “I know it’s a change from my vote (Monday). I will just say that since yesterday’s vote, I got a lot more information than before voting yesterday… I think it’s good for economic development.

House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the motion was important to ensure the bill passed so that revolving loan funds have safeguards to limit how which the Ministry of Economic Development can use the funds.

“My feeling is that if we don’t suspend the rules, this bill will probably not go any further and we will adjourn sine die and we will lose these safeguards…”, Espinosa said. “By not suspending the rules, the effect of which is that this bill would likely not be enacted, we are essentially not enacting additional provisions that will direct the governor and his agency on how to spend these funds.”

After the motion to suspend the Constitutional Rules passed, SB 2001 enjoyed broad bipartisan support from both Republican and Democratic members of the House.

“I think we should do these economic development projects. I think they are very important to move this state forward,” said delegate Shannon Kimes, R-Wood. “I understand some of the arguments some people have against it, especially conservatives who don’t like crony capitalism. I’ll just say that I prefer crony capitalism to swamp socialism any day, and that’s what could happen to money if we don’t release it today in the private sector.

“If it’s $100,000 per job at $50 million minimum for high impact, you’re talking about 500 jobs. It is transformative. said delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “I can’t vote against that.”

The six down votes came from delegates Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia; Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; Chris Pritt, R-Kanawha; and Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha. Concerns ranged from lack of information on tracking West Virginians hired by companies receiving loans to Freedom of Information Act exemptions for any documentary materials, data or other writings for high-impact development projects. .

“This bill eliminates the possibility of FOIA of material information, and perhaps that material information is promises or quid pro quos made between targeted private companies…and this government counsel,” said McGeehan. “That’s hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes…a lot less transparency is being enacted with this economic development bill.”

“To me, just because you say it’s a high-impact project doesn’t make it feel like a guardrail to me,” said Fleischauer. “We are taking a dramatic step, in my opinion, to protect the documents that could underpin these agreements…there is a reason we have freedom of information legislation, and that is so that there have transparency on many things, including how taxpayers’ funds are used.”

Justice convened a special session last Friday. After changing the call of the special session on Monday morning, lawmakers met at noon and considered 17 bills consisting of laws passed in the 2022 legislative session that were vetoed for technical reasons, bills that did not pass the March 12 deadline, and a handful of new bills.

The driving impetus of the special session was to correct the flaws found in Senate Bill 729. The court passed the bill in late March, citing numerous technical flaws in the final version of the bill. SB 2001 was introduced to correct these flaws and make additional changes to two revolving loan programs.

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