CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates rounded out the final week of January by advancing a key bill designed to spur economic development and job creation in the state, setting it up for a passage vote early next week.
The House Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a committee substitute for House Bill 4001, which creates the West Virginia Impact Fund to attract investors to the state.
“In a capitalist economy, job-creating ideas need some source of investment capital in order to become a reality,” said House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, the bill’s lead sponsor. “What this fund and the Mountaineer Impact Office that oversees it will do is connect these business investment ideas with the investors who can help make them a reality.”
The Mountaineer Impact Office created by the bill is charged with identifying potential large-scale West Virginia business projects that need more than $25 million in capital and would benefit from additional investors. The Impact Fund would receive capital investment dollars – be it from private investors, investment firms or sovereign wealth funds – and invest them in these projects, creating new jobs for West Virginians while also producing an investment return for fund investors.
Speaker Hanshaw said this kind of fund is needed because West Virginia is a relatively small state and our businesses often cannot fund large-scale projects using the resources within our borders.
“According to CNBC’s Top States for Business survey, West Virginia ranked 48th for access to capital – and this is something we must reverse if we truly intend to grow and diversify our economy,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “The West Virginia Impact Fund would help connect businesses that want to expand and hire here with the investment capital they need to make it happen.”
State Department of Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy also told Finance Committee members the fund could make the state more competitive when it wants to attract large-scale projects, like a natural gas cracker plant.
Secretary Hardy said Pennsylvania offered Royal Dutch Shell nearly $2 billion in incentives to locate their cracker plant in Beaver County. He said West Virginia simply doesn’t have the resources to offer such large-scale incentives from state government, but that the Impact Fund concept could be a capitalist alternative that could entice companies to locate large-scale projects here.
“Instead of using state taxpayer dollars to incentivize investment, we’ll be able to go beyond our borders to find independent investors willing to provide capital for projects,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “We’ll reap the benefit of additional economic activity and tax revenue, the companies will benefit from having a well-capitalized project, and investors will benefit from profitable returns.”
An innovative concept, House Bill 4001 has now gained bipartisan support, with House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, along with Delegates John Williams, D-Monongalia; Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; and Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, signing on as co-sponsors.
The bill was read a first time Friday. It is slated to be up for amendments and passage early this coming week. Should it pass, it will go to the state Senate for further consideration.
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Meanwhile, the House of Delegates this past week unanimously approved two of three bills designed to reform and improve the state’s foster care and child welfare system.
House Bill 4129 eliminates the waiting period for the hearing on an adoption petition and adds flexibility to the process by allowing the adoption hearing to take place in the county in which the foster child was originally removed or the county in which the adoptive parents live.
Delegates passed that bill by a 93-0 vote on Monday.
House Bill 4094 strengthens the office of the Foster Care Ombudsman, which oversees the foster care system within the state Department of Health and Human Resources.
That bill passed on a 97-0 vote on Wednesday.
Both bills now head to the Senate for further consideration.
The third bill, House Bill 4092, is awaiting further consideration in the House Finance Committee, which wrapped up budget hearings this past week.
That bill would improve the state’s Foster Children’s Bill of Rights, create a new Foster Parents’ and Kinship Bill of Rights, make critical reforms to parenting standards and the guardian ad litem child representation process, and increase the daily reimbursement rates for foster homes.