Eliminating state funding to West Virginia and Marshall universities are among options House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa listed in a poll sent to Republican colleagues.
Espinosa said he wants to know which tax increases and budget cuts Republicans are willing to make to eliminate the state’s personal income tax. In an informal poll Espinosa, R-Jefferson, sent to GOP members of the House, he asked delegates if they would consider things like increasing the state’s sales tax to 8% and eliminating state funding to Marshall and WVU as well as halting the Promise Scholarship.
The poll asked lawmakers to consider 12 options lawmakers could exercise to offset the cost of losing $2.1 billion in revenue if the income tax is repealed during Gov. Jim Justice’s current term, which ends in 2024.
“Such a plan requires measures that are not politically popular standing alone,” Espinosa said in the poll first shared by Dragline, a blog following politics in West Virginia. “We need to determine if you would support such measures in order to achieve the goal of eliminating [personal income tax].”
On Wednesday, Espinosa joined a panel of House leaders in speaking to media during the West Virginia Press Association Legislative Lookahead, which took place via teleconference.
Espinosa said any suggestion the options in the poll are part of a firm plan is “ludicrous.”
“Generally speaking, we routinely reach out to our members to gauge their perspective on various issues or even components of issues to gauge whether they’re components of legislation they can support or, just as importantly, if not more importantly, which components are non-starters,” Espinosa said. “Frankly, we even sometimes ask our members questions when we have a sense that it may be a non-starter or may not have much support just to confirm that.”
“I think it’s fair to say ... some of those are non-starters.”
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, has said elimination of the personal income tax would be funded through “finding efficiencies in state government.” Gov. Jim Justice also has expressed his support for eliminating the tax.
In Espinoa’s poll, he proposed the following options:
- Increase sales tax to 8% and potentially higher
- Broadening of increased sales tax to include previously untaxed items such as professional services, advertising, hair care and contracting services.
- Reinstate food tax at 2.5% to 3%
- Special additional sales tax on luxury goods beyond regular increased sales tax
- Increase personal income tax on high earners temporarily until tax is ultimately eliminated
- 5% to 10% budget cuts, including public and higher education and Department of Health and Human Resources.
- Tiered severance tax on coal and gas resulting in immediate increase in taxation of metallurgical coal
- Reduction in higher education funding
- Eliminate all state appropriations to WVU and Marshall
- Transfer of soft drink tax from WVU’s medical school to general revenue
- Elimination or reduction of Promise Scholarship
- Marijuana legalization and taxation
For the current budget year, the state allocated $110.7 million to WVU’s general fund and $49.2 million to Marshall’s.
The list doesn’t specify whether proposed cuts to Marshall and WVU would include the state allocations to their respective medical schools. The state allocated $16.4 million to WVU’s Health Sciences Center and $13.6 million to Marshall’s Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
WVU also receives all of the revenue for West Virgina’s pop tax, the tax on soft drinks. The legislature generally doesn’t deal with revenue from the pop tax, since state law specifically states it goes to WVU “construction, maintenance and operation of a four-year school of medicine, dentistry and nursing.”
In fiscal year 2020, the pop tax generated $13.5 million, according to a report from the West Virginia Legislative Auditor’s Office.
The West Virginia Legislature is scheduled to reconvene Feb. 10 for its regular 60-day session.