Zatezalo, McGeehan look to upcoming Legislature session

Delegate Pat McGeehan isn’t certain West Virginia’s budget situation is where it should be for 2018 as lawmakers prepare to return to Charleston this month.

Meanwhile, his colleague in the state’s northernmost district, Delegate Mark Zatezalo, describes the atmosphere and attitude among legislators as more positive for the coming year, and he said he “is optimistic about about the future.”

Most lawmakers are saying the state’s finances are in better shape than they were in 2016 and 2017, when the Legislature worked into the late spring to avoid end-of-fiscal-year government shutdowns.

“Our financial condition is still a concern for me,” McGeehan, R-Hancock, said. “Spending is still frivolous, and I do not think it will be as rosy as some are making it out to be.”

McGeehan plans this year to reintroduce his “Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights” for West Virginians. The measure seeks to limit the annual growth in state government and taxation, permitting tax increases only when collected revenues exceed triggers based on the annual inflation rate and the annual percentage change in the state’s population.

Zatezalo, also R-Hancock, agrees the Legislature needs to be more disciplined in its spending.

“For the past two years, the state has been in a very difficult situation,” he said. “The problem is … when you come to the end of a fiscal year — and have a $100-million deficit in the existing budget — it makes it hard to go forward. But we’ve been told by the governor’s office that we should not have a shortfall this year. That, in itself, should put us in a better position, and the outlook is much better.”

Zatezalo serves as vice chairman of the House Energy Committee, and he expects there will be legislation this year dealing with the issue of co-tenancy and gas leasing rights in situations where more than one property owner is involved in a drilling unit.

There also will be attempts to make laws permitting gas production to be more efficient and assure a steady stream of product to manufacturers, according to Zatezalo. He said if West Virginia fails to act, manufacturers could come to think of the state as a secondary producer of natural gas, and growth and development won’t prove as lucrative.

“We have a lot of very big possibilities,” Zatezalo said. “We will see an increase in drilling activities. We’re just getting started. What we’ve already seen here is not close to what is going to be happening in the future.”

McGeehan said lawmakers should make moves this session to improve education.

“Common Core needs to be done away with,” he said. “It has changed names (now being called the West Virginia College and Career-Readiness Standards), but much of it is still in place.”

McGeehan said there also needs to be more legislative oversight concerning policies enacted by the West Virginia Board of Education.

“There will be some who welcome it, but many will want to push back against it,” he said. “It all depends. There will be pushing regardless. As with any legislative session, I always expect negative things to happen to life and property. I’m always looking for things that could be damaging, and I have my suspicions.”