The No. 1 goal coming into this legislative session for the West Virginia GOP supermajority in the House of Delegates and Senate, along with Republican Gov. Jim Justice, was to phase out or repeal the state’s income tax.
Some promised a population boom, if the tax were repealed, although data from sources such as the U.S. Census show that’s not likely. Maybe the wealthy just wanted to save more of their money. That’s nothing new in politics of any kind. What does motivation matter if they’ve got the votes, right?
But a problem has developed. Justice knew blowing a $2.1 billion hole in state revenue couldn’t pay for itself, so he proposed rolling the tax back by 60% in the first year, and eventually eliminating it. To make up for most of the lost revenue, he proposed a big hike in the state sales tax, jumping from 6% to 7.9%, as well as raising other taxes and getting rid of tax exemptions on certain professional services.
His GOP colleagues in the Legislature are unimpressed. The session is half over, and they’re balking at having to raise constituents’ taxes to give a tax break for the state’s most wealthy (as is the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Business and Industry Council).
Something might come together, but, in the meantime, the supermajority, having already passed legislation that accomplishes its other main goal of weakening public education and teacher unions, is on to the big distractions — the stuff that has little to do with problems in West Virginia but checks boxes for out-of-state think tanks and keeps the culture war raging.
There’s the bill to preserve all monuments to the Confederacy and take the control of removing or renaming such things at places like schools out of local hands to decide. Have to punish Kanawha County for renaming Stonewall Jackson Middle School to West Side Middle School, after all.
There’s the bill to allow teachers to carry concealed firearms. That’s a twofer. It makes the gun lobby happy and dents faith in public education among any parents worried about the myriad things that could go wrong with teachers packing heat.
They’ve already passed a bill to weaken regulations on storage tanks near water intakes — points to big industry, while the public wonders what the Legislature could possibly be thinking after the disastrous 2014 chemical spill in the Elk River.
There’s also the move to undo bail reform that was just enacted. It might jack up incarceration costs passed onto the taxpayer, but it sends a kind of “tough on crime” message.
There’s more, but you get the drift.
Most of the big stuff is done, and the one really big thing that was promised might not happen, so the supermajority is basically freestyling at this point. All those strange bills that were perennially filed but never actually discussed? They’ve got a seat at the table, now.
If the income tax discussion does come back, look for it in a form more friendly with this recent theme of “detrimental to the people who already live here, scares anyone who might consider coming here, but who cares?”