Taxpayers ask pertinent questions
With the state legislative session just days away, Delegate John Doyle fielded questions from locals at his first of two town hall meetings Monday.
The informal gathering brought many issues to the table, but Panhandle residents focused on some that directly affected them.
Rainer Kissel, a Berkeley County resident, came in the interest of Eastern Panhandle issues. He asked Doyle about the potential tax on Internet commerce.
“I tell you who would be hurt by a tax like that,” Kissel said. “It would be me because I have a very small online business.”
Kissel said it would greatly cost him to collect and send taxes from each state he sold items to.
“It would not cost you a penny,” Doyle said.
He explained that business owners could register with the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board to receive software to calculate sales tax for areas where products are sold and then the tax goes to that state. Or, Doyle said, there are certified service providers that will do the work free of charge.
But, the service providers are paid by taxpayers’ money.
“So they are getting paid by me because I’m a taxpayer,” Kissel said.
He and Doyle continued to discuss whose responsibility it was to remit the taxes: the business owner or the consumer.
“But what you’re saying now is that I’ve been violating every other state’s law,” Kissel said.
“You have been,” Doyle said.
“Well apparently there are laws that are not being prosecuted,”
Doyle then reneged his accusation and said that the U.S. Supreme Court determined, before the Internet, that collecting taxes through mail order was an “onerous burden” for the business owner.
“About half of the states that have sales taxes reimburse the merchants for collecting the tax,” Doyle said.
But financial issues weren’t the only ones brought forth Monday.
Some attendees were concerned about environmental issues affecting the area.
Compliance with the Chesapeake Bay standards came up as well as West Virginia’s role in it.
Eight and portions of two other state counties are in the bay’s watershed area. Doyle said the area needs state money to be “up to snuff” with the bay’s standards, but he thinks other legislators will say those counties in the watershed should foot the bill.
Elliott Simon, a Harpers Ferry resident who ran against Doyle in the 2010 general election, wonders why West Virginia has gotten dragged into the problem in the first place.
Simon said, based on research done on his own, that nutrients normally consumed by oysters are polluting the Chesapeake Bay. He said the Maryland and Virginia fishing industry have “overfished” the bay, which would make it an issue for those two states.
“Since 1950, the oyster population has been reduced by 99 percent,” Simon said.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, in the late 1800s, the bay’s oyster population could filter a volume of water equal to that of the entire bay every three to four days; today’s population takes nearly a year to filter the same volume.
“What can we do to fight this?” Simon asked.
Doyle suggested that the congressional delegation try to get the law changed because it was not up to the state to “sign on” to the bay effort.
“The federal government has mandated we do this,” Doyle said.
“It’s such a waste of money,” Simon said, “and because of the issue, shouldn’t there be at least some court action to bring this issue to light that the problem is not caused by us and we’re being asked to foot the bill.”
“We’re being told to foot the bill,” Doyle said, adding he thought it would be a “waste of money” to take it to court and continued to push for taking it to the congressional delegation.
Doyle added that Shepherdstown residents’ water is already Chesapeake Bay compliant.
Doyle also thought another environmental issue to bring to representatives’ attention was the hydrofracking of natural gas.
“The question is how do we regulate the extraction of natural gas to a) protect the water and, also in my opinion, b) protect the rights of the surface owners,” Doyle said.
Robert Thatcher, a Shepherdstown resident for the past six years, said he’s more concerned about the water quality aspect of hydrofracking.
“I would be more interested to find a way to minimize the damage that’s done to our natural waters because we only have so much,” Thatcher said.
Doyle agreed with Thatcher but admitted he didn’t know as much about the impact fracking had on water quality than the land rights issue.
Thatcher also said that Allegheny County, Pa. has restricted the amount of natural gas extraction that happens in the area and wondered if the state could use it as a precedent.
“Much of the land is covered with houses and factories and businesses. It’s not open land,” Doyle said, noting that Jefferson County is more rural than parts of Allegheny County, Pa. “It’s politically easier to get something passed like that.”
Simon said that this problem needs to be regulated due to the chemicals pumped into the ground with the water.
“If they don’t put controls on the chemicals they’re pumping down in those wells and if they get into the surface water, it’s going to be a big problem,” said Bob Murtow, a Shepherdstown resident who ran against Doyle in the 2004 and 2006 elections.
“The problem in our state legislature is not the lack of knowledge at the moment; it’s the lack of political will,” Doyle said.
“What then can we do to instill the political will throughout the state?” Thatcher asked.
Doyle again urged attendees to go to their representatives and urge those they know throughout the state to speak with their representatives.
Doyle also addressed the special election of the governor, redistricting, the “rainy day” fund, other post-employment benefits, the Homestead exemption and B&O taxes, among other things.
Doyle’s next town hall meeting will be Jan. 15 at the Harpers Ferry Town Hall at 1 p.m.