With Gov. Jim Justice and the Legislature’s Republican supermajority poised to take action on eliminating personal income taxes in West Virginia, a number of alternative funding schemes are likely to be examined to keep state government afloat.
An informal poll sent to GOP lawmakers last week by House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa attempted to gauge the level of party support for 12 funding options, several of them admitted to be almost certain “non-starters.”
Among options included in the poll were legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, cutting state funding for West Virginia and Marshall universities, eliminating the Promise Scholarship program and increasing and broadening the state’s sales tax.
Given the rate the state’s medical marijuana program has not quite been phased in since its passage nearly four years ago, relief-seeking taxpayers shouldn’t hold their breath — unless it’s a warm-up exercise to prepare for the amount of pot needed to be smoked to compensate for no income taxes.
According to the Tax Foundation, West Virginia has the potential to generate about $38.2 million a year in recreational marijuana taxes, based on population and average taxes paid per cannabis-using resident in states where legalization has occurred. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that revenue from the new sin tax falls far short of the $2.1 billion West Virginia currently takes in from personal income tax receipts. To compensate for that shortfall with recreational pot taxes alone, West Virginians would need to up their marijuana intake by a factor of 50.
After all, higher education and health care aren’t going to fund themselves.
To ease the strain on lungs and to draw out-of-state visitors seeking altered state experiences, recreational vendors may be encouraged to sell state-themed artisanal foods, like marijuana-infused ramps, pawpaws and pepperoni rolls.
Of course, other revenue replacement sources may present themselves.
Maybe the governor could revisit a scheme he mentioned during his 2019 State of the State Address: Building a giant lake to make up for the only piece of the tourism puzzle West Virginia lacks — a seashore.
By expanding the capabilities of the state’s military training areas on inactive surface mines to include carpet bombing, such a lake could be excavated at minimal cost. But the perfect name for such a reservoir has already been taken: Crater Lake.