A bill to create a new investment fund that would allow West Virginia to partner with private, corporate or international investors for major multi-million economic development projects effectively passed the Legislature on Thursday.
The Senate passed the bill, known as the West Virginia Impact Fund (House Bill 4001), without debate on a 30-3 vote, with Sens. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, and Mike Romano, D-Harrison, opposing the measure. Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, was absent.
It was a key agenda item this session for the House of Delegates, and particularly for House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who lauded its passage Thursday.
“We have all, for years, discussed the need to diversify our state’s economy to create jobs, provide opportunities and lure people and new businesses to our state,” Hanshaw, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement. “I absolutely believe this bill will help us attract the investment dollars that can capitalize the kind of large-scale projects that we’ve tried to locate in our state for years.”
Hanshaw added, “Many people don’t realize that there is more than $17 trillion — that’s trillion with a ‘T’ — worth of potential investment capital sitting in accounts across the globe looking for something to invest in. Our Impact Fund will create a vehicle that gives these investors the option of putting their money to work in West Virginia.”
The bill has to go back to the House to approve a Senate change to the bill’s title, a technicality.
It would set up an Investment Committee, headed by the governor and the Commerce Secretary to analyze and approve or disapprove proposed investments of $25 million or more. Critics argued that the committee could have too much power to pick economic winners and losers.
It also would create the Mountaineer Impact Office to identify potential business projects eligible for investment through the state Impact Fund.
During floor debate in the House, Hanshaw left the speaker’s dais to explain the proposal and to field questions.
“We have a chance here to do something that we’ve not done before,” Hanshaw said in his closing comments that day. “The very worst thing that can happen if we pass this bill is that just nothing happens. We aren’t appropriating money into it. We aren’t taking money away from other programs.”
Also Thursday, a day after the House rejected a series of amendments to fund various programs to benefit mothers and infants, food banks and at-risk youth, to repair state roads and to respond to a potential coronavirus crisis, it approved a number of tax-cut measures.
That included bills to cut business and occupation taxes on coal-fired power plants in the state by $16.3 million a year (Senate Bill 793), passed on a 80-17 vote, and to exempt private aircraft sales from the state sales tax, at an estimated cost of $300,000 a year (Senate Bill 530), passed on a 64-36 vote.
“I didn’t know the needy among us were private jet owners,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, echoing a phrase used during Wednesday’s budget debate.