The Back Pew: January 14 - West Virginia Daily News
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The Back Pew: January 14

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Close the windows and lock the doors…the legislature is officially back in session. Week one was a wild one.

NUCOR STEEL announced a plan to invest $2.7 billion in a steel mill in Mason County. It is a massive project–240 acres under roof, at least 800 employees, a multi-million dollar payroll, all to make American steel right here in West Virginia. The state is providing significant tax incentives to Nucor. There is risk giving this much in tax incentives to corporations, but they won’t come without the incentives today. I supported the legislation to make this possible because: the company has NEVER done a layoff, they are the world’s greenest steel company, they provide good paying jobs (entry level $70K/year) and college scholarships for all employees, they do profit sharing for all employees annually, the demand for steel is high thanks to federal infrastructure investments, this is a golden opportunity in green manufacturing for our WV workers, and the state won’t invest a penny until the company has invested. If this venture is successful, and I think it will be based on my meeting with the company, then it will lead to more such opportunities in other parts of the state like southern West Virginia.

ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUSES. Also this week, GreenPower Motor Works announced plans to build electric, zero-emission school buses right here in West Virginia. Their 9-acre facility will employ 200 citizens. They are partnering with Bridge Valley Community and Technical College to train folks.

FEDERAL FUNDS. Without the influx of federal funds via the American Rescue Plan and the infrastructure bill, we wouldn’t be seeing these economic development projects. Thanks to our federal Democrats and Republicans who supported the bills in Congress.

COVID continues to rage across the state and nation. Active case counts and

hospitalizations are at near record highs. We are praying for all of those infected and struggling with the virus, including Governor Justice and several legislators. It’s time to put our prayers into action and protect our neighbors. Let’s all do our part.

PAY RAISE. The proposed budget includes a 5% raise for all public employees. Not only do I support it, but I’m not sure it’s enough. For three reasons. One, a 5% raise doesn’t even keep up with inflation. Two, we need to catch up rather than just keep up. Child Protective Service workers for example are FAR below regional averages. Three, we can’t forget about retirees who are not part of the raise as proposed, even though it has been decades since they’ve gotten a raise of any kind.

FLOOD DEMOLITIONS. This week I confirmed that we are allowed to use American Rescue Plan funds to demolish flooded structures like homes and businesses. This is desperately needed, as dilapidated buildings are a safety and economic development issue. I’ve been appointed to chair a group of legislators to present a funding proposal. Stay tuned.

NATIONAL SERVICE BILL. Last year, I sponsored a bill to provide scholarships for students who serve in Americorps. It failed in the House, but we passed it in the Senate on day one this year. It will help us keep our kids here!

VETERANS DISCOUNTS AT STATE PARKS. Similarly, my bill from last year to provide veterans discounts at state parks failed in the House last year. So this year we passed it in the Senate on day one!

VETERINARY SCHOOL. A committee is looking into the possibility of opening a veterinary school in West Virginia. I’m completely supportive of this effort. Every farmer I talk to could use additional vet support for their livestock. This could be a unique opportunity for our state to fill a need. And I think we need to fight to house it in our region since it’s the agricultural center of the state.

That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you.

Senator Stephen Baldwin is the Minority Leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or stephen.baldwin@wvsenate.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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