Editorials, Opinion

Taxpayers spent a lot for special session flop

The Legislature’s special session that concluded Friday, July 29, was a massive waste of taxpayers’ money — at $35,000 a day for five days for a grand total of $175,000, to be exact. You likely don’t need us to tell you what that kind of money could have paid for, other than a week of legislators squabbling and producing nothing of value.

Even with wasteful spending put aside, the special session was a total flop. Legislators had been clear that Gov. Jim Justice’s income tax cut proposal was virtually a nonstarter. And then, to throw instructions for the Legislature to “modernize” West Virginia’s abortion law at the last second? No one was prepared, and it showed.

Justice’s tax cut was the primary reason for calling the special session. Which means the session should never have been called at all. Senate President Craig Blair had made it perfectly clear leading up to Justice’s announcement that senators, at least, were not on the same page. Blair is laser focused on the property tax cuts on the ballot this November in the form of Amendment 2.

Instead of continuing behind-the-scenes negotiations to work out a compromise, Justice decided to throw the Legislature together and told it to vote on his income tax cut bill. We’re not sure what Justice hoped to accomplish when one entire chamber was opposed to his proposal. So not surprisingly — but definitely amusingly — the Senate trashed his bill altogether and approved its own resolution outlining the property tax cuts it will make if voters pass Amendment 2. (Refer to our July 14 editorial for all the reasons both plans are foolish.)   

Then Justice took an already bad plan and made it worse.

Not long after the special session convened, Justice amended his instructions and asked legislators to also tackle “modernizing” West Virginia’s abortion laws.

Unlike Justice’s impatience to pass an income tax cut against all objections, we can understand why he rushed to add the abortion law to the agenda. After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, it was unclear if an 1800s abortion statute went into effect and whether it superseded more recent abortion laws predicated on Roe v. Wade. Just a few days before the special session began, a Kanawha Circuit Court judge issued an injunction against the 1800s law because of its ambiguity.

That said, legislators were clearly not prepared to tackle the issue. The abortion law took precedence over the tax bill, which got shoved to the backburner while legislators squabbled and heckled over exceptions and criminal penalties. Legislators were so unprepared that not even the Republican super-majority — which often rules in lockstep — could find agreement within its own party.

So here we are, more than a week later, with no firm plan on any kind of tax cuts (and no clear answer if Justice and Blair will give up their pipe dreams) and no clarity on whether or to what extent abortion is permitted in West Virginia. All we have is $175,000 less in the state’s coffers.