Legislative column: The first way is not necessarily the best way

There has been a lot of talk over the past couple of weeks in regards to House Bill 4333 (HB 4333) that has been introduced by request of Governor Tomblin. Some refer to this bill as the “haircut bill,” while others call it “the bucket bill.” However, I just refer to it as a bad bill.

Although West Virginia’s overall fiscal condition is one of the strongest in the country, which includes a solid bond rating on Wall Street and a strong rainy day fund, we are facing a shortfall in our 2014-15 budget year. There are several contributing factors that created this gap. Over $100 million has been paid out in flex fuel tax credits in 2012-2013, a program that ended last year. The state Legislature has also eliminated 6 percent off the food tax, reduced the business and franchise as well as the corporate net taxes, which all combined has put over $360 million back in the pockets of taxpayers. I certainly believe in reducing taxes when we can, and I have been a strong supporter of these tax cuts and reductions. However, they do play an integral part in tough budget years.

With that brief summary of the budget, Governor Tomblin introduced H.B.4333 as a proposed partial solution to these money shortfalls. This bill would move monies from one bucket to another, primarily from the counties, cities and purse funds at the racetracks to the state. This redistribution within the confines of the lottery has been referred to as giving the counties, cities, and racetracks a “haircut.” This bill really hits home because Hancock County is one of the four counties in the state that have a racetrack/casino combination, and the counties that have these racetracks receive a larger portion of the lottery dollars that are distributed. If this bill is passed, 15 percent of the county’s share of the lottery funds will be cut, and the Hancock County Commission predicts it would lose approximately $500,000. Those county monies are currently distributed among the cities as well as many other worthwhile groups and projects in Hancock County.

I certainly respect the legislative process and understand that it is a process of working together through difficult issues. I also understand that when a bill comes along like HB 4333 that will have such devastating effects on the county, cities, and businesses that I represent, I cannot support any part of it as it is currently written. I have had conversations with the Governor’s office, and I have let them know I cannot support this legislation as it will create economic hardships on many people in my district. As a solution, I have been working together with my colleagues Delegate Ronnie Jones, Senator Rocky Fitzsimmons and Senator Jack Yost, among other members that also have racetrack/casinos in their districts, to identify another funding source that would leave the current county and purse funding in place. I am confident that by working together, we will be successful in finding an alternative funding mechanism to fill the gap in the budget that will not come off the backs of the hardworking citizens and businesses of Hancock County.

Contact information: Facebook page: Randy Swartzmiller, or follow me on Twitter: @WV_Delegate; or my e-mail: rswartzmiller@gmail.com or write to: Randy Swartzmiller, State Delegate, Room 242, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305; or call my Capitol Office: 304.340.3138 or Mobile: 304.479.5140

(Swartzmiller is the speaker pro tempore of the House of Delegates, and represents the 1st District, including Hancock County and parts of Brooke County)