- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The state Legislature returned to the Capitol Monday to consider whether to require that West Virginians get hired to repair and build the state’s roads and bridges.

Gov. Jim Justice called lawmakers back for a special session to address that proposal, as well as bills to exempt military retirees from paying personal state income taxes, and to increase the credit allowed against personal and corporation net income taxes for spending on rehabilitating historic structures.

“In an effort to enforce the hiring of West Virginians and making sure that all our contracts are following the rules and are in compliance with all regulations, I am seeking legislation to allow our tax enforcement division to use the same streamlined rules for hiring, as the Division of Highways,” Justice said. “It is time that we start allowing the people of West Virginia to win and bring prosperity to their families.”

After voters recently approved $1.6 billion in state bonding for road and bridge projects, the Justice administration also drafted bills authorizing the Division of Highways to streamline hiring policies to fill an estimated 500 vacancies and to access tax records to disqualify tax-delinquent contractors. He wants similar hiring policies for the tax department.

Justice said that as he traveled across the state advocating approval of the roads bond, the top question he was asked was how people will know that West Virginians really get the jobs. Based on one economic model, he projected that a total infrastructure spending of about $2.4 billion would create 48,000 direct and indirect jobs

In a broadcast interview Monday, House Speaker Tim Armstead said state law already requires that 75 percent of the people contractors hire for these projects be West Virginians. The proposal is intended to strengthen enforcement of the requirement. Armstead noted that some are concerned that adding criminal penalties to the current civil penalties for violations could be too severe.

The Senate on Monday voted 31-0 to pass the bill to authorize sharing contractor tax information, but keep it subject to the same confidentiality provisions among highway personnel as it is among tax personnel. Sen. Charles Trump said it authorizes withholding final payment to a contractor who isn’t current with tax income tax withholding for workers. He said that provision may not also apply to the company’s subcontractors unless required by contract.

The House of Delegates followed and voted 94-0 to pass the bill after strengthening its provisions. It goes beyond authorizing tax information sharing to require it.

That includes whether bidders on highway contracts have current business registrations, whether they or their subcontractors had registrations revoked or surrendered or received cease and desist orders on road jobs, whether they’re in compliance with employee tax withholding, and whether contractors and their subcontractors are in good standing with all owed taxes paid.

The pension bill introduced Monday in both houses would exempt from state income tax any federal retirement income from the regular armed services, reserves and National Guard as well as survivorship annuities included in federal adjusted gross income.

The Legislature convenes again Tuesday.

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