MORGANTOWN — The two candidates for the open state Senate 13th District met with The Dominion Post Editorial Board to answer some questions on the issues.
Every Senate district has two seats. Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, holds one of them. Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, is the senior senator and is running for county commission, leaving his seat open starting in January.
Democrat Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer and Republican Mike Oliverio, who previously held a 13th District seat, are vying to succeed Beach.
Fleischauer said she is a mother, grandmother and attorney. “I think all of those things are important to the kind of service I can offer to the people in the 13th District.”
As a delegate, she said, she’s championed women’s issues, including reproductive health, and children’s issues — leading legislation for insurance coverage of autism therapy and insulin copay caps.
Her slogan, she said, is “Fighting for Fairness and Getting Things Done.” She’s concerned about recent laws concerning public education, saying they represent government overreach.
Oliverio is a Morgantown High School and WVU graduate, and served as an Army Reserve officer. He served in the House of Delegates and the Senate.
He has also served, he said, on Family Protection Services Board, dealing with domestic violence issues. He was named American Pediatric Association Legislator of the Year for children’s issues, and Legislator of the Year by the Emergency Room Physicians Association, for leading passage of helmet laws.
His legislative priorities, he said, will be improving roads and bridges, expanding broadband, improving schools, diversifying the economy and bringing home the district’s fair share of state funding.
They fielded a couple questions on the rival House and Senate tax cut plans. The House and the governor want to reduce and ultimately eliminate the personal income tax. The Senate wants — if Amendment 2 passes — to eliminate the vehicle property tax and the personal property tax on business inventory, equipment and machinery.
Oliverio said, “Maybe it’s possible to do some of both, but with certainty we need to provide tax relief.”
With a $1.3 billion budget surplus and more than $1 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, he said, the state needs to address inflationary pressures on taxpayers. Removing the car tax — essentially a 13th car payment each year — would be one means. “It’s a fair way of helping our citizens.”
He said he will vote for Amendment 2 — the Property Tax Modernization Amendment — because our neighbor and competitor states don’t have those business taxes, but noted that voter approval of the amendment doesn’t immediately cut any taxes; that requires further legislative action.
Fleischauer addressed the huge surplus. “I think that we are in a very temporary situation.” The budget coffers are full of federal COVID money. “The suggestions that are being promoted by the majority party are permanent suggestions.”
It would be irresponsible to enact a permanent cut for revenue that funds the schools, police, EMS and fire services.
When the House passed its income tax cut bill (which died in the Senate), Fleischauer supported a Democratic amendment, which failed, to give a $250 rebate to every taxpayer. The bill’s percentage-based cut favors the rich in terms of absolute dollars, she said.
On the Senate plan, “I feel very strongly that Amendment 2 is misguided.” The inventory tax is not a good tax but they need a plan to replace the lost dollars.
Another question dealt with their thoughts on how to spend the available portion of the budget surplus.
Fleischauer said, “The best use of those funds is to use them for the people.” We have a robust Rainy Day Fund but we don’t know what the future holds. So they need a plan, and it should be more people-oriented, she said.
Oliverio said that half of the Rainy Day Fund is invested in equities, and that came about because of legislation and a Constitutional amendment he led.
Some surplus is one-time money and has to be spent carefully, he said. Some should be returned to the citizens and some should be spent on social service needs and addressing the opioid problem.
In the wake of the recent update to abortion law following the overturning of Roe v Wade, they were asked what they would do to support mothers.
Oliverio said there are good programs in place: WIC, Head Start. We need to fund public schools and offer school choice, he noted.
“West Virginia is a state with very kind and caring people,” he said. They support a variety of nonprofits. But we need to do better with foster care programs, make it easier to bring children into foster households, and we need to streamline the adoption process.
Fleischauer said the state needs to support both mothers and families. In vitro fertilization should be covered.
The new law, she said, forces women to have children they may not be able to take care of, as the broken foster system reflects. And post-pandemic, kids need stability and counseling.
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