A State Tax Credit for Democracy: Citizens Unite!

This evening the State Senate passed a bill that would make significant changes to our state’s campaign election laws by increasing the amount of money people can contribute to political campaigns. Under Senate Bill 541, the cap for campaign individual contributions would increase from $1,000 to $2,700 per election cycle, matching the amount that federal candidates receive in elections. The bill would also require organizations that give over $1,000 in campaign disbursements to be included in an online searchable database run by the Secretary of State’s Office.

While increasing transparency in the campaign election process is a positive step forward to combating the Citizens United decision that has opened up the floodgates for large, wealthy campaign donations, policymakers could also consider other avenues for combating the stranglehold of money on our democracy. One such idea would be to make it easier for everyday people to contribute to campaigns by giving them a state tax credit. This is exactly what Oregon does (and several other states to a lesser extent).

The Oregon Political Tax Credit, enacted in 1969, gives tax filers a non-refundable credit of up to $100 ($50 per person) who donate to a political party, candidate for office, or political action committee at all levels of government. Beginning in 2014, the tax credit is limited to single adults with incomes under $100,000 and joint filers with income under $200,000. According to the Oregon Department of Revenue, approximately 98,000 people claimed the credit in 2010 for a price tag of about $6.3 million, with the average credit being $66 per tax filer.  The share of Oregon taxpayers using the credit has ranged from 3.4 percent to 7.8 percent. 

The goal of the Oregon Political Tax Credit is to increase participation and clout in elections among everyday voters. In 2004, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) put forth a similar proposal for federal tax credit based on Oregon’s Political Tax Credit. In its report, PIRG highlighted that a federal tax credit existed from 1971 to 1986 and received strong bi-partisan support. There has also been a renewed push at the federal level to pass similar legislation to create a $25 refundable My Voice tax credit to help spur small-dollar contributions to candidates for Congressional office. (A recent report by the progressive think tank DEMOS outlines several other proposals, along with the My Voice tax credit, that provide other incentives to bring more small donors into the political process.)

For relatively little money, West Virginia could design a similar My Voice tax credit (perhaps calling it the Citizens United Tax Credit). According to the IRS, in 2012 there were 788,490 tax filers in West Virginia. If we use this number as our base for 2016 and assume that five percent of tax filers use the credit – which would be on the very high end since the credit would be brand new – approximately 39,000 tax filers would use it. At an average credit of $66, this would amount to only about $2.5 million, even less if West Virginia adopted similar income caps as Oregon. West Virginia could also make the tax credit refundable, so more low-income people could participate. To pay for the tax credit, West Virginia could repeal a number of existing ineffective tax credits or just make it a priority by including in the state budget.

While adopting such a credit would not solve all of the problems associated with wealthy donors monopolizing the political process and public policy, it could be a great tool for grassroots campaigns that want to include more people into the political process in the post-Citizens United world. Citizens Unite!

 

Let’s Not Go Backwards on Paying Social Workers

Last week, the State Senate passed a bill (SB 559) that would except DHHR social workers from the requirement to be licensed by the West Virginia Board of Social Work. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, this bill aims to get more people to apply for positions within Child Protective Services (CPS). While CPS has suffered from retention problems and high levels of caseloads, eliminating licensure could put vulnerable children at risk and remove important accountability standards. Furthermore, this proposal neglects to deal with one of the central underlying problems, which is low pay. As former State Senator Donald Cook pointed out about CPS workers: “They’re underpaid.  They’re overworked.” 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (OES), social workers in West Virginia are paid less than their counterparts in almost every state. In 2013, the average salary for child social workers that worked with children was just $31,700 – ranking last in the country.  Mental health and substance abuse social workers where paid even less in West Virginia on average, just $30,300 per year – also ranking last in the nation. While the average salary of healthcare social workers was $42,780 in 2013, this was lower than all but two states.

social workers pay child

Social worker pay 2

Social Workers Pay 3

While it’s good that DHHR is concerned about staffing shortages, eliminating accountability standards for social workers is not going to solve the problem and could make employee turnover worse. Let’s hope the House makes major changes to the bill and that we take concrete steps in the future to ensure that all DHHR social workers get paid a decent wage for their hard and important work. Instead of a race to the bottom, we need a race to the top. Our children deserve no less.

 

Budget Beat – February 27, 2015

Legislative Session Enters Crunch Time

With March right around the corner, and cross-over day looming, time is running out for legislation to pass during the 2015 Legislation Session.

Here’s a quick recap on keys issues we’ve been following:

  • Legislation to gut the current Prevailing Wage is now under consideration by the House after a compromise was reached in the Senate. 
  • While Right to Work legislation appears to have stalled for the time being, a lot can happen during the session’s final days.
  • Today the Senate Government Organization Committee is scheduled to take up legislation to that would write into law the recommendations of the Governor’s Early Childhood Planning Task Force. It would also make sure that the Early Childhood Advisory Council is empowered to spend this year strategizing how to implement those recommendations.
  • As of today, there has been no movement in the House on legislation that would require drug testing of TANF recipients. The bill passed the House Government Organization Committee on February 11 and is now awaiting action by the House Finance Committee.

For more on why this policy would not only be expensive to administer but also ineffective when we look at how its worked in other states, here is Sean’s op-ed from this week’s Charleston Gazette.

West Virginia Has One of the Largest Drops in Number of Uninsured

With implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014, the number of people without health insurance in West Virginia has dropped by nearly seven percent. According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, West Virginia ranks 5th in the nation with only Arkansas, Oregon, Washington and Kentucky seeing greater improvements.

 WV uninsured rate

More Austerity, Less Prosperity in State Budget

Next week the WVCBP will release its annual Budget Brief which looks at the governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The story is much the same as last year with the governor trying to close the budget gap, caused by ongoing tax cuts, with temporary solutions.

One recommendation in the report is an increase in the state’s tobacco tax for the first time in over a decade. A bill with bi-partisan support was introduced in the Senate last week that would raise the tax by $1 a pack to $1.55, very close to the national average. Here’s more in the Beckley Register-Herald.

Business tax cuts are taking their toll on the budget. With little to no room in the budget for salary increases, here’s a look at where West Virginia stands compared to its neighbors in terms of wages paid to teachers and public workers:
teacher salaries

 public workers salaries

More in next week’s Budget Beat on the impact of the governor’s proposed budget on West Virginia’s working low- and middle-income families.

Race Matters Summit in Martinsburg

Over the next several months there will be many events which have spun off from last year’s Summit on Race Matters held in Charleston. Upcoming is a mini summit in Martinsburg on Wednesday, March 18 from noon to 4:00 PM. Please register by March 4 by emailing Michele Barnes.

Martinsburg invite

Budget Beat – February 20, 2015

Bill to Drug Test TANF Recipients Passes First Committee

The 2015 Legislative Session is now more than halfway over and there are several measures we are keeping an eye on that would impact West Virginia’s working families.

Yesterday the House held a public hearing on legislation that would require drug testing of Temporary Assistant to Needy Families (TANF) recipients.

No one spoke in favor of the bill but several testified against it, including WVCBP fiscal policy analyst Sean O’Leary. Read more in the Charleston Daily Mail and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Watch a recap of yesterday’s hearing here.

Sean’s blog post cites how ineffective and expensive such testing has been in other states. Many speakers also said the bill would be unconstitutional under the 4th Amendment.

Despite lack of support for it at the public hearing, the bill passed the House Health and Human Resources Committee yesterday and now makes it way to House Finance.

Paid Sick Days Bill Introduced

The Earned Sick Time Act was introduced today in the Senate. The bill would allow employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked. Currently over 260,000 West Virginians do not have access to a single paid sick day to take care of themselves or family members during illness.

Infograph

Senate Considering Two Dangerous Resolutions

Ohio Governor John Kasich visited West Virginia this week to ask lawmakers to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget amendment.

Senate Concurring Resolution 13 would do just that. SCR 21, which passed out of the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee this week, would impose federal fiscal restraints and call for term limits.

For much more on why these are bad ideas for our economy and our democratic process, read this blog post by Betty Rivard and Ted Boettner. There’s more in this AP article and in this week’s Daily Mail.

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Right to Work Legislation Introduced

Legislation to make West Virginia a Right to Work state has been introduced in both the House and Senate. The measure would effectively end collective bargaining in the state.

Here’s an excerpt from Ted’s op-ed on why Right to Work is not something West Virginia working families need:

The new Republican Legislature is looking to end free bargaining in West Virginia by adopting a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law that aims to cut wages and benefits for the state’s working families.

This is the last thing West Virginia needs. The state already has the highest share of low-wage jobs in the country and efforts to make this worse should be stopped.

The principle aim of RTW laws is to diminish the ability of workers to collectively bargain freely without the interference of government. This is precisely why Milton Friedman, the godfather of “free market economics,” adamantly opposed RTW laws.

Under RTW, it would be illegal for a union and a business to freely enter into a contract that requires every employee to pay for the benefits they are receiving under the agreement. This means that if a worker who does not pay a union representation fee is fired, the law requires that the union represent that worker through an appeals process. Non-dues paying workers would also receive other substantial benefits like workplace protections and higher wages and benefits.

Undoing Racism Workshop Accepting Applications – Deadline is February 27

An Undoing Racism Workshop will be held April 8-10, 2015 at the Pope John XXIII Pastoral Center, 100 Hodges Road, Charleston, WV. It is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and led by: the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Workshop Description: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond focuses on understanding what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. Our workshops utilize a systemic approach that emphasizes learning from history, developing leadership, maintaining accountability to communities, creating networks, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizational gate keeping as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

Workshop registration information is available here. Applications are due February 27.

Questions? Please contact Lida Shepherd at (304) 356-8428 or Lshepherd@afsc.org.

Race_Matters_logo

Budget Beat – February 13, 2015

West Virginia Next State to Drug Test Welfare Recipients?

A bill making its way through the West Virginia Senate would create a three-county pilot program to drug test recipients of cash assistance.

At its current projected costs, the drug testing program would cost over $600 per cash assistance recipient. To put that amount into perspective, the maximum monthly benefit amount for a family of three in West Virginia is only $340.

Read more about this costly proposal and the lackluster results it has had in other states in Sean’s blog post.

After Compromise Language Adopted, Senate Passes Prevailing Wage

Yesterday, the Senate passed its version of the prevailing wage bill. Arguably one of the most talked about pieces of legislation this session, the bill’s opponents were able to get it amended prior to passage. Construction projects costing less than $500,000 would be exempted from having to pay the prevailing wage. In addition, the responsibility of calculating the prevailing wage would be moved to Work Force West Virginia from the Department of Labor.

Here’s more in this week’s State Journal and from West Virginia Public News Service.

Growth in Economy Not Making it to People’s Wallets

While West Virginia’s economy is recovering from the Great Recession, its residents continue to struggle with stagnant wages. In fact, from 2008 to 2013, the median household income in West Virginia declined even as the economy grew:

Economy grown incomes fallen

ACA Enrollment Deadline is February 15

The deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is just two days way on February 15. When the final numbers are in, it is expected that 35,000 West Virginians will have enrolled this year. Read more from the Charleston Gazette.

Undoing Racism Workshop Accepting Applications

An Undoing Racism Workshop will be held April 8-10, 2015 at the Pope John XXIII Pastoral Center, 100 Hodges Road, Charleston, WV. It is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee and led by: the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

Workshop Description: The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond focuses on understanding what racism is, where it comes from, how it functions, why it persists and how it can be undone. Our workshops utilize a systemic approach that emphasizes learning from history, developing leadership, maintaining accountability to communities, creating networks, undoing internalized racial oppression and understanding the role of organizational gate keeping as a mechanism for perpetuating racism.

Workshop registration information is available here. Applications are due February 27.

Questions? Please contact Lida Shepherd at (304) 356-8428 or Lshepherd@afsc.org

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Try This Conference Early Bird Special Ends Sunday

February 15 is the deadline for the discounted registration fee for this year’s Try This conference. Register here.

Be there for two idea-packed, inspiring days with like-minded people from all over the state. Trade ideas, join forces. Get inspired, learn, plan your next steps.
40 workshops packed with healthy community ideas and strategies.

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients – Wasteful and Unnecessary

West Virginia’s legislature is moving forward with a costly and ineffective bill targeted at only the poorest West Virginians. The bill, SB 348, would create a three-county pilot program to begin drug testing recipients of cash assistance (a.k.a. WV Works/ TANF). The costs of the drug screening would be deducted from the TANF recipients’ monthly check – which averaged about $340 per month for a family of three in 2013 – and would be reimbursed if found negative. The latest report from DHHR shows that in May 2014 there were only 4,065 adults on cash assistance, including 4,918 children. 

While the purpose of the bill would seem to be to discourage substance abuse and save the state money, evidence from other states shows such programs fail to achieve either goal.

While 12 states have some sort of drug testing program, an analysis from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that no proposed or current policy has saved any state dollars. Instead, the programs are very expensive to implement and run, with some costing millions of dollars.

The fiscal note for West Virginia’s proposed bill shows costs of $2.5 million in the first year, and $1.8 million in ongoing costs, which included the costs of the actual drug testing and the mandated substance abuse treatment for those who fail the test. And that is just for a three-county pilot project, with those counties representing roughly 1/3 of all cash assistance recipients in the state. If the pilot were to be expanded statewide, total costs could approach $6 million per year. 

In 2013, West Virginia spent approximately $29 million on TANF basic assistance. That means that the costs of a statewide drug testing program would be approximately 1/5 of what we currently spend in total on basic cash assistance.

At its current projected costs, the drug testing program would cost over $600 per cash assistance recipient. To put that amount into perspective, the maximum monthly benefit amount for a family of three in West Virginia is only $340.

There is also no evidence that such programs help curb substance abuse, largely because there is no evidence of widespread drug use among cash assistance recipients. Which is why policies in other states have overwhelmingly failed to find any significant number of substance abusers among their recipients of cash assistance. For example:

  • In the first six months of Indiana’s drug testing program for its workforce training program, only 13 of 1,240 failed the test, or 1.0% of applicants.
  • In two years, Arizona’s drug testing program identified “reasonable suspicion” for only 16 out of 64,000 applicants, or 0.25%. After three years, only 1 applicant had failed a drug test.
  • Before it was stopped, Florida’s drug testing program had only 108 out of 4,086 applicants fail its drug test, or 2.6%.
  • In Missouri, only 636 out of 32,000 applicants were suspected of drug use, and only 20 failed a drug test, 0.0625% of all applicants.
  • In Utah, 394 out of 4,425 applicants were suspected of drug use, and only 9 tested positive, 0.2% of all applicants.
  • In Oklahoma, 340 out of 1,300 applicants were screened for drug testing, with only 29 testing positive, 2.2% of all applicants.
  • In Tennessee, only 37 of 16,017 applicants for cash assistance tested positive, or 0.23% of all applicants.

The drug testing of welfare recipients is also on shaky constitutional ground. In 2003, a federal court ruled that Michigan’s law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients to be an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment. More recently, Florida’s drug testing law was also found to be unconstitutional, again violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against government searches.

While West Virginia’s proposed law, which allows for a drug test under “reasonable suspicion”, is less stringent than Florida’s blanket testing, it is still of questionable constitutionality.  A drug test is considered a “search” under the Fourth Amendment, and searched are typically only allowed “pursuant to a judicial warrant issued under probable cause.” While there are exceptions for public safety and the protection of children in public schools, these exceptions don’t seem likely to apply. In addition, some of what is considered “reasonable suspicion” in West Virginia’s proposed law, such as missed appointments, don’t have a connection to drug use.

West Virginia does have a substance abuse problem, and we all want to find a solution to it. But expensive and unnecessary policies that are based more on stereotype and punishing the poor than on facts and evidence are not the way to solve it.

Budget Beat – February 6, 2015

State Senate Poised to Pass Prevailing Wage

On Tuesday, the Senate Government Organization Committee passed out SB 361, legislation to repeal the state’s prevailing wage. The single-referenced bill is now in the hands of the full Senate where it was read for a first time today.

In follow-up to our report released last week, “West Virginia’s Prevailing Wage: Good for Business, Good for Workers,” here is Sean’s op-ed, appearing in both the Charleston Daily Mail and the Huntington Herald-Dispatch today, which states the case why it’s important to continue to provide a prevailing wage for hard-working West Virginia laborers.

Here’s more coverage of the issue from the Charleston Daily Mail and West Virginia Public News Service. Go here to watch Sean’s interview with Ashton Marra on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Legislature Today.

Here’s next week’s budget hearings (in respective Finance Committee rooms):

2/9/2015
2:00 PM – Public Service Commission (House)
3:00 PM – Higher Education Policy Commission (Senate)
3:00 PM – Supreme Court (House)
4:00 PM – Community and Technical Colleges (Senate)

2/10/2015
3:00 PM – Consumer Advocate Division (Senate)
3:45 PM – Public Service Commission (Senate)

2/11/2015
9:00 AM – Higher Education Policy Commission (House)
10:00 AM – Community and Technical Colleges (House)

President’s Budget Provides Assistance to West Virginia Communities

This week President Obama released his budget for FY 2016 which starts on October 1. Of particular note to Appalachia, hard hit by the decline in coal production, is the president’s Power Plus Plan which would “invest in workers and jobs, address important ‘legacy costs’ in coal communities, and drive development of new technologies,” as reported in this week’s Charleston Gazette.

From the Gazette article: “The president’s plan offers an incredible opportunity to take meaningful action to help regenerate coalfield areas where coal will inevitably decline,” said Ted Boettner, WVCBP Executive Director.

Here is an overview of the plan directly from the president’s proposed budget.

Free Black History Event This Monday

West Virginia State University will kick off Black History month on Monday, February 9 with a very special event, “A Conversation with Pamela J. Meanes.”

Attorney Meanes is the current President of the National Bar Association and a vocal advocate for federal investigations into police violence against minorities across the country.

Please plan to attend at 6:30PM at the Wilson Student Union, West Virginia State University.

Pamela Meanes

The First 1,000 Days

If you haven’t had a chance to watch “The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When it Counts” it is available here including extra clips from many of our coalition partners. Check out this important film!

first 1000 days

Educating Our Children Good for the Economy

As it turns out, providing a quality education for our children does more than just prepare them for the future, it also improves our nation’s economy. A new study looks at what the educational gap between low-income and wealthy children means in terms of lost revenue and economic growth. Read more here.

Budget Beat – January 30, 2015

State Senate (Almost) Takes Up Bill to Repeal Prevailing Wage

This week SB 361, a bill that would repeal the state’s prevailing wage, was on the Senate Government Organization Committee agenda. While the controversial bill was not taken up, it likely be next week.

According to a new WVCBP report out this week, “West Virginia’s Prevailing Wage: Good for Business, Good for Workers,” West Virginia lawmakers considering a repeal of the state’s long-standing prevailing wage are trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and could end up hurting working families and our local economy.

construction_crane.jpg

Supporters of the bill argue that eliminating the prevailing wage will save taxpayers money by lowering costs on public construction projects. As the graph shows, however, school construction costs in West Virginia are already lower than non-prevailing wage states.

PW Figure 1

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • Multiple academic studies have shown that prevailing wage laws do not raise public construction costs; instead the impact of higher wages on costs is compensated by the positive effect on productivity.
  • West Virginia’s school construction costs are lower than its surrounding states, including Virginia, which does not have a prevailing wage law and Ohio, which exempts school construction from its prevailing wage law.
  • Claims by opponents about the costs of West Virginia’s prevailing wage law are implausible and based on hypothetical assumptions, ignoring actual experience, evidence and data.
  • Construction workers in West Virginia work an average of 1,760 hours per year. Using wage rates from the Occupational and Employment Statistics data rather than the current prevailing wage rates would result in poverty-level incomes for many construction occupations.
  • The repeal of prevailing wage laws leads to less workforce training, less experience in the workforce, higher injury rates, lower health and pension coverage, and lower wages.

Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette, Charleston Daily Mail and the State Journal. Tune into the Legislature Today at 6PM tonight to hear Sean O’Leary talk about this week’s report.

Here’s next week’s budget hearings (in respective Finance Committee rooms):

2/2/2015
2:00 PM – Attorney General’s Office (House)
3:00 PM – Department of Commerce (Senate)
3:00 PM – Veterans’ Department (House)

2/3/2015
3:00 PM – Senior Services (Senate)
3:45 PM – Veterans’ Department (Senate)

2/4/2015
9:00 AM – Department of Administration (House)
2:00 PM – Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (House)
3:00 PM – Department of Transportation (Senate)
3:45 PM – Parkways Authority (Senate)

2/5/2015
9:45 AM – Arts and Education (Senate)
3:00 PM – Department of Administration (Senate)
3:45 PM – Department of Environmental Protection (Senate)

2/6/2015
9:00 AM – Department of Soil Conservation (House)
10:00 AM – Department of Agriculture (House)

West Virginia Targeted in Push for Balanced Budget Amendment

There’s a national push for calling on Congress to convene a constitutional convention of the states, with the goal of adopting a balanced budget amendment (BBA). Opponents say that there is no consensus among legal scholars that either the states or Congress can control what happens once a convention is convened, with actions taken going beyond the stated goal of passing a BBA. Read more about this threat to the U.S. Constitution in this blog post by Ted Boettner and Betty Rivard.

Reminder: Second Chance to See The First 1,000 Days

Kids and Families Day featured the world premiere of “The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When it Counts.” In case you missed it, the film’s television premiere is Monday, February 2 at 9 PM on your public broadcasting station. The film features our very own Ted Boettner!

Here’s more from WV Public Broadcasting and you can watch the trailer here.

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West Virginia is Risking the Future of the U.S. Constitution (Updated)

by Betty Rivard and Ted Boettner

West Virginia has been targeted by a number of conservative groups to adopt a resolution calling on Congress to convene a constitutional convention of the states, with the goal of adopting a balanced budget amendment (BBA). Opponents from across the full political spectrum are alarmed that a convention of the states can create turmoil in the country, jeopardize the U.S. Constitution, and divert the nation and the states from the critical issues that they need to resolve on an ongoing basis. It was reported today that Ohio Governor John Kasich will be in Charleston West Virginia this Thursday ( February 19) to promote a constitutional convention.

The focus on amendments to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government also puts the country and its economy at risk. Our state’s Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 13, introduced today, seeks a constitutional convention to propose a balanced budget amendment under Article V of the U.S. Constitution. And SCR 21, calling for fiscal restraints and term limits, is on tomorrow’s agenda for the Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee. A companion resolution, HCR 47, with 60 sponsors, has been introduced in the House. These resolutions are based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council and others,  not a constituent-driven action. The House also has a bill,  H.B. 2424,  that  attempts to define the delegate process for the convention.

Blog BBA

To adopt a concurrent only require a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate. Although pending concurrent resolutions have been referred to committees, neither a referral to committee nor a reading on the three consecutive days is required, so they can move very quickly. Sign-off by the governor is not required for a concurrent resolution to take effect, and the governor’s veto power does not apply.

Both the constitutional convention and the content of the resolutions and bill present serious risks to our government and our economy.  The legislature should prevent any resolution calling for a constitutional convention, or bill laying out a process to do so, from being adopted during the current legislative session.

Why is a constitutional convention a serious risk? What are some of the implications of these limits to federal power and, specifically, fiscal restraints?

Serious risks posed by a constitutional convention

The most critical risk is that the country and our state could be thrown into extreme turmoil due to the lack of legal agreement about what is involved in a convention of the states. While Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides for the option of amendment via a convention, there is no direction on how this option is to be implemented.

Despite reassurances from conservative groups, there is no consensus among legal scholars that either the states or Congress can control what happens once a convention is convened, even if states specify that it is only for a balanced budget amendment or other limited purpose. Convention delegates could consider any changes to the U.S. Constitution that they want to introduce. The only check and balance is the ratification by at least 38 states, via either their legislature or a convention, before an amendment is adopted. Some legal experts believe that even this ratification process could be open to change by the convention.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights in a recent report:

A number of prominent legal experts have warned that states cannot control a constitutional convention or that calling one could open up the Constitution to significant and unpredictable changes.  For instance:

“I certainly would not want a constitutional convention.  Whoa!  Who knows what would come out of it?”a
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

“[T]here is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey.  After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”b 
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger

“There is no enforceable mechanism to prevent a convention from reporting out wholesale changes to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”c
Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg

“First of all, we have developed orderly procedures over the past couple of centuries for resolving [some of the many] ambiguities [in the Constitution], but no comparable procedures for resolving [questions surrounding a convention]. Second, difficult interpretive questions about the Bill of Rights or the scope of the taxing power or the commerce power tend to arise one at a time, while questions surrounding the convention process would more or less need to be resolved all at once.  And third, the stakes in this case in this instance are vastly greater, because what you’re doing is putting the whole Constitution up for grabs.”d
Professor Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School

“[S]tate legislators do not have the right to dictate the terms of constitutional debate.  On the contrary, they may be eliminated entirely if Congress decides that state conventions would be more appropriate vehicles for ratification.  The states have the last say on amendments, but the Constitution permits them to consider only those proposals that emerge from a national institution free to consider all possible responses to an alleged constitutional deficiency. . . Nobody thinks we are now in the midst of constitutional crisis. Why, then, should we put the work of the first convention in jeopardy?”e 
Professor Bruce Ackerman, Yale Law School

Leaders across the political spectrum have expressed their concerns about a “runaway convention.” Many states have rescinded resolutions that were passed as early as the 1980s, although a number have replaced these with new resolutions in recent years. This earlier move for a convention was stopped just before reaching the required number of 34 states when some states realized the risk of signing on. South Dakota and Utah rejected the new call to action in 2014. 

While SCR 13 stipulates that only a balanced budget amendment would be considered during a proposed constitutional convention, this is not the case.

 Further Resolved, If the convention called by the Congress is not limited to considering a balanced budget amendment, then any delegates, representatives or participants from the State of West Virginia asked to participate in the convention are authorized to debate and vote only on a proposed amendment or amendments to the United States Constitution requiring that, in the absence of a national emergency, the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenues for that fiscal year, together with any related and appropriate fiscal restraints;

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, this final clause (bolded above) “opens the door to any constitutional amendments that a convention might decide fit under this broad rubric, including placing a rigid ceiling on federal spending so that all (or virtually all) deficit reduction has to come from cutting federal programs such as Social Security or Medicare, with little or none coming from revenue-raising measures. Such a ceiling would reduce or eliminate any pressure to produce deficit-reduction packages that pair spending reductions with increased revenue from closing unproductive special-interest tax loopholes or from combating tax avoidance by powerful corporations.”

While H.B. 2424 attempts to lay out a detailed process for delegates and their duties and responsibilities for  a constitutional convention of the states, Article V is silent about how delegates are chosen and what these responsibilities may be. According to a recent study by the Congressional Research Service: 

Congress has traditionally laid claim to broad responsibilities in connection with a convention, including (1) receiving, judging, and recording state applications; (2) establishing procedures to summon a convention; (3) setting the amount of time allotted to its deliberations; (4) determining the number and selection process for its delegates; (5) setting internal convention procedures, including formulae for allocation of votes among the states; and (6) arranging for the formal transmission of any proposed amendments to the states.

Risks of amending the U.S. Constitution to establish new limits on federal powers

The fiscal restraints are in and of themselves a serious risk to the stability of the country. The core principle of most BBA proposals is that the federal government could only pay out what it takes in during the course of a year. This principle jeopardizes benefits to individuals, such as Social Security and Medicare, which depend on the use of a trust fund that carries over from one year to the next. We also know that in hard times the federal government may need to borrow in order to compensate for the revenue shortfalls for our states and our citizens.

Both states and families use controlled indebtedness in order to cover planned expenditures that they cannot afford with their yearly earnings. For example, our School Building Authority uses bonds in order to help build and repair schools. Many of our families have mortgages or student loans to pay for housing and higher education. The BBA would prevent the federal government from using these kinds of common sense fiscal tools.

A BBA, in particular, seems like a simple solution, and there is a lot of popular support for pursuing it. The best response to concerns about deficit spending is to demonstrate real leadership on fiscal policy at every level of government and to make these decisions in a thoughtful and balanced way instead of focusing on arbitrary ways to cut spending. As Robert C. Byrd said over two decades ago:  “I support a balanced budget, and I want to lower the federal deficits…But the answer must not be to perform a lobotomy on our nation’s most sacred principles of checks and balances and separation of powers . . . simply because we are frustrated.”

The leaders of our new legislative majority now have an opportunity to prove their ideas for improving the state’s economy. The fact is that, just like other states, we depend on federal funds in order to function. This is especially true for our aging population that relies heavily on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. 

Oppose a Constitutional Convention of the States

Whatever your opinions are about a balanced budget amendment, we all agree that the U.S. Constitution is the backbone of our democracy and that any attempt to risk the foundation that it has provided for our country is misguided at best and disastrous at worst.

Whatever your opinions about a balanced budget amendment, perhaps we can at least agree that calling a constitutional convention for the first time in 227 years is misguided. Such a radical process would imperil the foundation of American democracy, our federal Constitution, which continues to serve us well today. – See more at: http://gbpi.org/reckless-budget-proposal-has-unintended-consequences#sthash.BDia57xB.dpuf
Whatever your opinions about a balanced budget amendment, perhaps we can at least agree that calling a constitutional convention for the first time in 227 years is misguided. Such a radical process would imperil the foundation of American democracy, our federal Constitution, which continues to serve us well today. – See more at: http://gbpi.org/reckless-budget-proposal-has-unintended-consequences#sthash.BDia57xB.dpuf

Budget Beat – January 23, 2015

It’s All About the Budget Around Here

This week was all about the most important bill that will be passed this legislative session, the state budget.
2015 budget breakfast crowd IIAt Wednesday’s Budget Breakfast, Ted presented an analysis of Governor Tomblin’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 state budget (which will start on July 1, 2015) to a standing-room-only crowd. Joining him to take questions from the audience were Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler and Secretary of Revenue Bob Kiss.

2015 budget breakfast panel

Senator Mike Hall is joined by Senator Jeff Kessler and Secretary of Revenue Bob Kiss at the 2015 Budget Breakfast, The panel was moderated by WVCBP board director Stephen Smith on January 21, 2015.

In response to concerns from House and Senate leadership, this week the governor continued to tweak his numbers so he would need to take less from the state’s rainy day fund to close the budget gap. What did he do and where is the money coming from now? Read more in Ted’s blog post.

These Charleston Gazette and Beckley Register-Herald articles feature some quotes from Wednesday’s panelists and recaps of this year’s Budget Breakfast. Of note is Secretary Bob Kiss explaining that the tax cuts imposed over the past several years are not necessarily permanent, and the state could be back to experiencing budget surpluses beginning with Fiscal Year 2017 or 2018. Could this mean funding restored to higher education and other important programs? 

Budget Gap

Here’s next week’s budget hearings (in respective Finance Committee rooms):

1/26/2015
2:00 PM – Department of Environmental Protection (House)
3:00 PM – Department of Commerce (House)
3:00 PM – Department of Education (Senate)
4:00 PM – School Building Authority (Senate)

1/27/2015
3:00 PM – Department of Health & Human Resources (Senate)

1/28/2015
9:00 AM – State Auditor’s Office (House)
10:00 AM – State Treasurer’s Office (House)
2:00 PM – Department of Revenue (House)
2:30 PM – State Lottery (House)
3:00 PM – Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (Senate)

1/29/2015
9:30 AM – Division of Corrections (Senate)
3:00 PM – Department of Revenue (Senate)
4:00 PM – State Lottery (Senate)

1/30/2015
9:00 AM – Department of Health and Human Resources (House)

More Jobs for West Virginia Youth Could Cut Crime Rate

Creating more jobs for the state’s youngest workers could tackle several of the state’s pressing problems at once: it could decrease poverty, provide more income for working families, reduce the crime rate and improve West Virginia’s labor force participation rate (the lowest in the country).

Read more in this op-ed by Rick Wilson, former WVCBP board member and closet wonk.

Second Chance to See The First 1,000 Days

Kids and Families Day last week featured the world premiere of “The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When it Counts.” In case you missed it, the film’s television premiere is Monday, February 2 at 9 PM on your public broadcasting station. The film features our very own Ted Boettner!

Here’s more from WV Public Broadcasting and you can watch the trailer here.

first 1000 days
Volunteers and Donations Allow Hundreds to See “Selma”

As part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, hundreds of Charleston young people got to see the movie “Selma” for free and talk about the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.

To stay informed about future events and meetings, join the Race Matters in WV public group on Facebook.

Future plans include launching a website and holding an Undoing Racism workshop this spring.

Here’s more on Monday’s movie experience.

Selma movie poster

Earn It. Keep It. Save It!

While we don’t have a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in West Virginia yet, low-income working families can benefit from the program at the federal level which provides families with a refundable tax credit if their income is below $53,000. On Friday, January 30 volunteers will be on hand to help people file their income tax return and find out if they are eligible for the federal EITC.

2015 EITC day