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House of Delegates passes Hanshaw Impact Fund bill

CHARLESTON — After spending 16 days on the inactive calendar, a bill supported by the Speaker of the House of Delegates to create an avenue for out-of-state and foreign investment passed the House Friday.

Members of the House spent more than two hours Friday asking questions of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and discussing House Bill 4001, creating the West Virginia Impact Fund. The bill passed the House 94-4 with two members absent.

Hanshaw, normally presiding over the floor session from his podium, stepped down to address the House from his floor desk, explaining the bill and its purpose, and patiently fielding numerous questions from Republican and Democratic members alike.

HB 4001 would create the West Virginia Impact Fund and the Mountaineer Impact Office. The special revenue fund under the state treasurer would become a source for investments.

The bill sets the minimum aggregate investment for the fund at $25 million. It would hold any returns on investment, gifts, contributions and even appropriations as determined by the governor and the Legislature, though it’s not expected that state monies would be used in the fund.

Hanshaw said the impact fund is a way for West Virginia to complete with surrounding states who do use taxpayer dollars as leverage to get companies to invest in major economic development projects in their states.

“The approach of this bill is to use capitalist activity to use investment by non-state actors in such a way that we can create the same kind of economic environment here that other states are creating by reaching into the pockets of their citizens,” Hanshaw said. “We have a chance here to do something that we’ve not done before…the very worst thing that can happen if we pass this bill is that just nothing happens.”

The Investment Committee would consist of the a representative of the governor, the secretary of the Department of Commerce, and five members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The day-to-day management of the fund would be done by the Mountaineer Impact Office. The Investment Committee would appoint a managing director for the office. The director’s job would be to find investors.

Opponents of the bill raised concerns about state leaders using the fund to pick economic winners or losers, or using the fund for their political benefit. Attempts to amend the bill to limit the board’s power were rejected.

“One thing we’re missing in this bill, in my opinion, is the crown to put on the head of the Governor,” said Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, who voted against the bill. “The Governor in West Virginia already has more power than any other governor in the United States and we’re giving them a lot of authority here, a lot of power. I think this could be easily translated to political power.”

The bill had the unanimous support of the House Democratic Caucus, with all 41 Democrats voting in favor of the bill.

“I don’t have to tell you that this state is hurting,” said Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia. “All of our districts have some problem or issue that could be aided by increased investment in the State of West Virginia. That’s exactly what this bill does and it’s being done in a bipartisan manner and a creative manner that is going to allow investment in the State of West Virginia and allow it in a way that will not offend the federal regulations that exist.”

“What we’re saying is we believe that we have a climate and an infrastructure in West Virginia that we believe in, but need a little help because we’re not going to spend state taxpayers money to that,” said Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha. “This is a creative, bold new initiative that puts West Virginia back on the map and gives people a chance to invest in West Virginia.”

HB 4001 now heads to the state Senate.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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