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Local Control: GOP lawmakers are losing their way

It seems much longer ago, but when Republicans took over the legislative majority in Charleston in 2014, there was renewed hope in the Mountain State that those we elected to represent us in state government would be weeding out fraud, waste, incompetence and frivolous spending; they’d dethrone King Bureaucracy; they’d turn their backs on special interests and truly serve the people of West Virginia; and they would return some control to those same people.

Activity in our state capital this session reveals what a naive hope that was.

Far from “right-sizing” government, as so many lawmakers claimed they would do, efforts now are to actually increase spending and add layers of bureaucracy. There are joking whispers in Charleston that it is hard to tell which way is up, when Democrats come across as being the party of fiscal responsibility.

Amid the bills clearly introduced so lawmakers can make dangerous social statements because they believe it will appeal to their base, there are also insidious efforts to wrest control away from local elected officials and bring it back to the capital.

As we have reported, House Bill 2256 would exempt all non-residents of cities from having municipal user fees removed from their paychecks. HB 2500 would prohibit cities from regulating the use of single-use containers, such as plastic bags and straws. HB 2319 would prohibit cities from creating their own occupational licensing programs, and HB 2693 would eliminate Human Rights Commissions created by cities.

House Finance Committee Vice Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood, is right. So drastically modifying the user fee would be devastating for cities all over the state.

Lawmakers know that. Certainly sponsors of some of this legislation, such as Dels. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam; Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh; John Mandt, R-Cabell; Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas or Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam, know exactly how such bills would affect local governments.

“I believe that local control is the best way to govern,” said Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke. “The best decisions that can be made are by those who are closest to the people.”

Another lawmaker weighed in:

“What (HB 2256) does is it centralizes power in Charleston.”

Later, that same lawmaker said “I don’t understand (the desire to centralize power). Have you seen how things work down here? They don’t work very well.”

Just eight years ago, it would have been a no-brainer to say the lawmaker making those statements was a Republican. Not now. Credit goes to House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, and he is absolutely correct.

GOP lawmakers in Charleston have some soul-searching to do. Will they return to the mission on which they rode into office so few years ago? Or will they become more drunk on power and control — on serving their own interests rather than the people of West Virginia — than the Democrats they made a career of accusing?

The time to do what is right for West Virginia is now.

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