- Associated Press - Sunday, December 4, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Republican lawmakers chosen Sunday to lead West Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates said measures supporting businesses and jobs will lead next year’s agenda, while acknowledging concerns about state budget deficits they’ll face.

The Republican majorities meeting in caucuses chose Sen. Mitch Carmichael to be the new Senate president in 2017 and Delegate Tim Armstead to return as speaker of the House of Delegates for the 60-day session that starts in February.

The Senate Republicans increased their majority in the November elections with 22 senators compared to 12 Democrats. In the House of Delegates, Republicans lost one seat but have a 63-37 majority.

“We have a vision, our time in the Legislature in the majority, a more free-market approach to the economy in West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “We feel when we lessen the role of government in the lives of our citizens that they will be able to prosper and help our society move forward.”

He listed four platform parts: reducing West Virginia’s “over burdensome” regulatory schemes, saying they eliminated more than 100 rules, reducing the state’s lawsuit-friendly atmosphere, advancing the education system and letting local entities have more control, and making the tax structure competitive with everywhere else.

“We’re last in per capita income. We have the lowest workforce-participation rate in America,” he said. “As we come into this chamber with a 60-day legislative session, we should do so with our hair on fire to make sure that we are intent on creating an environment that private sector can hire people and put them back to work. We want to knock down every impediment that people have to hiring our citizens in West Virginia.”

Carmichael and Armstead said they hope to advance measures like those enacted in the last two years with Republican legislative majorities like limits on court damage claims. Both said they’ll look for areas of agreement with Gov.-elect Jim Justice, a Democrat.

“Where we don’t, we’ll move forward, Carmichael said. He noted that the Republican-majority Legislature this year voted to override vetoes of current Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Carmichael said cutting taxes on manufacturers’ equipment and inventory will be considered, though they need to make sure the lost revenues won’t hurt counties and school systems that get the revenues.

“We also want to look at our severance taxes, because energy is certainly a huge part of our economy, and we do have severance taxes that are actually higher than surrounding states,” he said. “That’s another challenge because once we reduce those, we’ll have to make sure we don’t put another hole in our budget.”

Those taxes are imposed on coal mining, oil and gas drilling and cutting timber.

“I do think there are ways we can gradually do that, in a way that will put our energy industry more in sync with the rest of our country. And that’s a huge advantage we have because of the energy resources we have here. And we want to do everything we can to put people back to work in our mines, drilling for gas, mining for coal. I think there are tremendous opportunities there, but we’re going to have to change some of our policies and our taxation structure.”


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