By Shawn Stinson
The focal point of a special session of the West Virginia legislature was personal income changes, but lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement on the issue.
Gov. Jim Justice (R) called for a special session to begin on July 25 to discuss cuts to personal income taxes.
“It will drive job growth, population growth and prosperity in West Virginia,” Justice said. “But the most important thing to do is get started right away. In the past year, gas prices have gotten out of control and inflation is through the roof. West Virginians need help right now.”
Despite holding a super majority in the House of Delegates and Senate, the Republicans were unable to pass legislation and send it to Justice’s desk. Members of the House of Delegates on July 28 overwhelmingly passed an income tax bill supported by Justice by a 78-7 vote.
The two delegates representing Pendleton County – John Paul Hott (R-54) and Bryan Ward (R-55) – voted in favor of the bill. Cody Thompson (D-43), who is running for re-election to represent portions of the county following November’s General Election, also supported the bill.
House Bill 301 called for a permanent personal income tax cut by an aggregate of 10%. It would have been retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022. Officials said the bill would have put nearly $254 million “back in the pockets of West Virginians.” They added the proposed total tax reduction was the maximum recommended reduction that could be made and remaining in compliance with the American Rescue Plan Act restrictions.
The bill was not voted on in the Senate before the end of the special session. Senators passed a resolution by a 30-0 vote to support a plan to cut personal property tax but failed to mention the proposed income tax supported by Justice and passed by the House of Delegates. Voters will vote on Amendment 2 in November’s General Election to allow state lawmakers the authority to reduce or eliminate six categories of personal property.
Republican Sens. Bill Hamilton and Robert Karnes both voted in favor of the resolution. The pair represent Pendleton County in the Senate.
Senate President Craig Blair (R-15) addressed his fellow senators asking for their support for Senate Resolution 303.
“I assure you by the time that we get to Nov. 8 with the help of the members in this body and those outside the body, the people are going to understand that this is our best path forward,” said Blair.
If Amendment 2 is passed in November, Senate Republicans have said they want to fund all 55 counties in the state at their county real tax dollar assessments, as well as provide counties with a minimum of an additional $1 million more than their assessments, funding the counties directly through the general revenue fund. Their plan also includes the elimination of tangible personal property tax for machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, leasehold investments, computer equipment, inventory and vehicles.
Blair estimates there will be nearly $558 million available in funding for county governments and school districts every year.
“There will be prosperity in each county,” Blair said. “That’s our goal. We can’t have the haves and have-nots in this state. We cannot stay the same as we have historically done because it has historically failed us. We can afford to do this today.”