Delegates Vernon Criss, R-Wood; Eric Householder, R-Berkeley; John Doyle, D-Jefferson; and Jim Barach, D-Kanawha, examine a document during the special session to give tax breaks to entice companies to West Virginia. Photo by Perry Bennett / WV Legislative Photography.

The lightning-quick deal to give steel company Nucor a billion-dollar tax break was the talk of the West Virginia Legislature’s first week, but were the pronouncements of economic gain from the project overstated? Plus, an abortion bill that the U.S. Supreme Court may (indirectly) have a say on soon, and the return of Mountain State Spotlight’s Capitol Tracker. 

Economic development

As they considered the huge tax breaks for steelmaker Nucor proposed by Gov. Jim Justice, lawmakers meeting in a special session last week relied on a three-page report by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. 

But that document, as noted by reporter Douglas Soule, includes assumptions that don’t stand up to basic scrutiny. The report assumes that all of the plant’s workers will live and pay taxes in West Virginia, even though the plant would be near the state’s borders with Ohio and Kentucky. The report’s estimates of construction workers and wages initially worked out to each worker making an unrealistic $700,000 a year. And the $439 million that the report estimates in state taxes for the next decade doesn’t include the tax breaks the state agreed to give the project.

Even the researcher who put the report together said he wished he’d had more time to work on it, rather than the few days he was given. 

Delegates Heather Tully, R-Nicholas, and David Kelly, R-Tyler, during a House of Delegates public hearing on a bill that would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks. Photo by Perry Bennett / WV Legislative Photography.

Abortion rights

One of the first items on legislators’ agenda once the regular session began was the restriction of abortion rights. Ten members of the House of Delegates introduced a bill that would prohibit abortion more than 15 weeks after conception (as opposed to the 20 weeks under current state law, and the 16-week limit that West Virginia’s only elective abortion center now uses). The bill sailed through the House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee and went on to the House Judiciary Committee, where it remained as of Friday morning.

As reporter Quenton King told us, the bill is similar to a Mississippi law under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. People on both sides of the abortion rights debate expect the court to “at least gut Roe v. Wade” in their decision on the Mississippi law, as one advocate said. That could affect how the current West Virginia bill proceeds.

A delegate examines House Bill 4004 during a public hearing on the bill, which is similar to a law that restricts abortion rights being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Perry Bennett / WV Legislative Photography.

Other issues

Among the issues at the Legislature covered by other West Virginia media:

| MetroNews reports that the House Education Committee recommended a bill that would prohibit county school boards from imposing a mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The bill would allow parents to sue schools over the law.

| The Charleston Gazette-Mail has a story on a Senate bill that would set up an insurance company to backstop the state’s coal mine cleanup funds. The fund would cost $50 million in money specified by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and DEP’s secretary says his agency doesn’t have the money.

| MetroNews has more on Democratic legislators’ priorities for the session. They say they want to reduce the state sales tax from 6% to 4.5%. They say they’re hoping for bipartisan support for the bill, and noted the amount of tax revenue the state would lose is similar to the amount allocated by lawmakers for Nucor’s capital improvements at their proposed Mason County steel mill.

Capitol Tracker / Power and Possums

The bill to restrict abortion rights (officially House Bill 4004) is one of the ones we’re keeping a particular eye on at Mountain State Spotlight with our Capitol Tracker, which allows our readers to look up bills by name, number or sponsor (here’s a helpful guide to how to use the Tracker). 

And it’s not too late to sign up for our newsletter series Power and Possums, which explains how the Legislature really works. Once you sign up, you get a newsletter once a day for six days. 

Greg Moore is a co-founder. Greg grew up in Morgantown and graduated from West Virginia University. He spent nearly 25 years as an editor and reporter at the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Gazette-Mail....