This week from Charleston
The first set of interims for all Legislators is scheduled for next week. Because of scheduling, I have only two one hour meetings that are back go back. Rather than waste 10 hours of travel to and from, I will participate through the live video and audio streams. I will also have my colleagues available to pass on questions I may have during the two sessions. I have been and continue to be critical of legislative interims as a waste. There is very little hope of actually being able to get into a topic in a substantive way in just one hour. The interims feel more like a boondoggle to justify paying legislators with an extra check rather than a way to delve fully into a topic. By not attending, I am happy to give up the legislative per diem. In a cost benefit analysis, the current method of just two days of meetings every other month ends up costing more than is gained.
One group that is meeting more frequently is the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform. The mission of the committee is to reform West Virginia taxes in a “budget neutral” way. This is something everyone should pay very close attention to, particularly in the Eastern Panhandle. The mantra of cutting business taxes to spur growth, if taken to the next logical step means someone’s taxes are going to go up. You can’t cut taxes one place without raising taxes in another place if the proposal is truly “budget neutral.” I am very concerned with the possibility that real property taxes will be raised. This would disproportionately impact the Eastern Panhandle. West Virginia has one of the lowest real property taxes on the East Coast, and the low tax environment is why West Virginia is attractive to many people including retirees. I will be watching this extremely carefully. While I believe that we do need to restructure many West Virginia taxes, we cannot do it on the backs of ordinary citizens.
Who would be the beneficiary of new tax breaks? One of the groups mentioned frequently is coal operators who want to cut the coal severance tax. This past legislative session saw tax breaks given to coal operators, but none to the everyday citizen. If we are going to cut taxes one place, the benefit should be given to everyday citizens. Certainly the people who are working full time, but barely able to keep up, should be the focus of any tax break. One of the interesting proposals we need to look at is earned income tax credits targeted to the people who are working one or two jobs just to stay afloat. The West Virginia legislature cut business and food taxes by about 400 million dollars over the last decade, but yet we haven’t seen any economic growth as a result. Let’s hope we figure out a better way this time.