Tomorrow morning, Governor Joe Manchin will unveil his proposal for reforming West Virginia’s tax system. Given the timing of tomorrow’s announcement, one thing is certain: this plan will be long on politics and very short on meaningful policy.
Moreover, news reports over the weekend have indicated the governor will call the Legislature into special session immediately after the election and before new legislators may be sworn in. The state constitution (W.Va. Const. Art. IV, §7) provides that the term of office of the Legislature begins on December 1 in even-numbered years. Usually, legislators are sworn in on the first day of the regular session in January; however, if the Legislature is in session at any time between December 1 and the regular sessions, the swearing-in is held earlier.
While rare, lame-duck special sessions of the West Virginia Legislature are not without precedent. Twice, the Legislature has met in special session during the lame-duck period: November 20-28, 1916. and November 27, 1964. The 1916 special session is of special note because outgoing governor Henry Hatfield (R) convened a Republican-controlled Legislature after the election of Democratic Governor John Cornwell and a Democratic House of Delegates. The 1964 session was a one-day session following the election of a Democratic governor, Hulett Smith, to replace a fellow Democrat, Wally Barron, and an election of a Legislature more heavily Democratic than its predecessor. On several other occasions, newly-elected legislatures were convened after the December 1 beginning of the term of office but before the regular session on the second Wednesday of January.
The timing of tomorrow’s announcement, coupled with the governor’s planned mini-tour of the state to promote his plan, strikes almost every political observer as a pre-election political maneuver designed to benefit members of the Ruling Party. I see it as a desperate ploy to distract attention from the fact that a lifetime of one party-rule in the Legislature has produced only a lifetime of listlessness for our state. As I wrote last week, Open for Business remains a slogan on the road signs West Virginia expatriates see when they return home to visit their parents and grandparents a few times a year because our next-to-last ranking in state business climates has caused most noncaptive businesses (meaning those businesses that can choose where to locate as opposed to captive industries like coal, oil, gas, timber, and other extractive industries that have no such choice) to avoid West Virginia.
If my hectic schedule at law school permits, I will try to write more tomorrow about the substance of the governor’s proposal and whether its politics meet my current expectations.