Gov. Justice speaks during an event promoting his tax cut plan. Photo courtesy the Governor's Office.

Good evening, it’s Wednesday.

The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill that would require state officials to study homeless demographics, specifically to find out whether the state’s resources and support systems are attracting out-of-state residents. But first, the governor’s tax cut plan has run into a roadblock in the form of the West Virginia Senate.

Justice hits the road, says he’s open to tax cut compromise with Senate

Gov. Jim Justice addresses a crowd in Beckley last week during an event. Photo courtesy the Governor’s Office.

Gov. Jim Justice is still taking his income tax plan on tour around the state, making stops in Bridgeport and Martinsburg this week, even as Senate leaders plan to pursue a completely different tax effort. 

Justice’s plan would cut personal income taxes in half over the next three years, and create a $700 million reserve fund. His plan has not received support in the Senate.

“We are two-thirds of the way home, we should have already passed this,” Justice said Monday of the plan, which in addition to the governor’s backing, passed the House with minimal changes last month. “It should be over right now.”

Senate leaders have declared the proposal “dead on arrival”, and senators are expected to propose their own tax plan in the near future. According to Senate Banking and Insurance Committee Vice Chair Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, that plan could come in the form of a dueling 50% tax cut that would slash taxes in half all at once. 

“That’s going to require moving some dollars around and trying to do some other things,” he said this week. “But that’s what the Senate is exploring right now.” Oliverio added that he believes the Senate proposal could help attract workers to West Virginia. 

But advocates critical of large tax cuts have challenged that belief, arguing that the income tax cuts would reduce state money and further limit the state’s ability to provide services despite several ongoing crises. 

If passed without changes, Justice’s plan would reduce general revenue fund collections by $161.8 million this year, and the size of that reduction would go up annually, reaching a $1.492 billion decrease in 2026.

Speaking to MetroNews Talkline on Wednesday, Justice lamented the rift over the plan, saying that he would be open to a compromise if it means a tax proposal will pass before the session ends.

“At least it gets us on a real pathway,” he said. “On this issue, I’m as easy as you can get.”

 —P.R. Lockhart

West Virginia had a plan to end homelessness. Lawmakers want to study the problem – again

Senators meeting in Charleston on Wednesday. Photo by Will Price/WV Legislative Photography.

Almost a decade after a state task force produced a plan to end homelessness in West Virginia and made significant progress towards that goal, the group is no longer meeting and lawmakers have advanced legislation to study the issue – again. 

This time, the study would focus on demographic information and whether West Virginia’s resources for the homeless population are attracting people from out of state. SB 239 passed the Senate unanimously earlier this week and has been sent to the House. 

In 2013, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin convened an eight-agency taskforce to develop a plan. It built upon the efforts of previous administrations and focused on collaboration between government and nonprofit partners. At the time, federal officials were pioneering a “housing-first” model that prioritized permanent housing over temporary shelters.

Those who work on homelessness around the state say the taskforce helped and the data backs that up. Between 2013 and 2020, homelessness in West Virginia went down 40%. But, the group no longer meets as Gov. Jim Justice hasn’t continued the efforts. 

While West Virginia has one of the lowest homelessness rates in the country, the number of unsheltered people – those living permanently outside – has increased in recent years.

Now, instead of updating an existing fleshed-out plan, the legislation moving through the statehouse would charge the Commissioner of the Bureau of Behavioral Health to work with nonprofit and government leaders to create a new study of homeless demographics information.

While the bill advanced from committee and passed the state Senate without debate, lead sponsor Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, told a television station earlier this week that the goal of the bill is to find out what is bringing homeless people to West Virginia and how they’re moving around the state. –Duncan Slade

Go deeper: ‘I just walk all night to stay warm’: As more people live on the streets, unsheltered West Virginians struggle to survive

Correction: An earlier version misidentified Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, as the vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee. He is the vice chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee and a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

P.R. Lockhart is Mountain State Spotlight's Economic Development Reporter.

Duncan Slade is Mountain State Spotlight's Deputy Managing Editor