By Bobby Bordelon
As the West Virginia Legislature and Governor Jim Justice debate the repeal and replacement of the state income tax, a number of bills sponsored by Greenbrier County representations are on their way to becoming law. As of Wednesday, March 10, four of these bills were passed by both houses, while many more have been passed by either the Senate or House of Delegates.
Governor Jim Justice announced the specifics of his plan to repeal the income tax in West Virginia, replacing it with a number of other tax increases.
Justice pointed to the doubling of the United States population from 1950 to 2016. Despite this, West Virginia lost population, approximately 8 percent, in the same time period. Then, between 2010 and 2020, according to Justice, West Virginia lost another 3.8 percent of its population, “despite instituting programs like Roads To Prosperity, despite investing in our tourism, despite record-breaking revenue growth, and more.”
According to Justice’s press release about the plan:
– The state consumer sales tax will increase from 6 percent to 7.9 percent.
– A single-item luxury tax for certain high-value luxury items will be implemented.
– An increase in taxes on tobacco ($2.25 per pack), soft drinks (6 cents per 16.9 fluid ounce), beer ($29.25 per barrel), wine ($4 per gallon), and CST on lottery tickets.
– Changes to severance taxes on natural gas and coal, updating them to tiered systems.
– “All lower income brackets less than $35,000 a year will receive a tax rebate check under the plan. Low income and high income taxpayers will all see a net positive benefit if this plan is enacted.”
“We may never have an opportunity like this ever again,” said Justice. “Because of how we’ve handled the COVID-19 pandemic – how we’ve saved lives, had the best vaccine program in the nation, and kept our economy on the move – the spotlight of the world is on West Virginia right now. This is the time to seize our opportunity… The last piece of this puzzle is the elimination of our personal income tax. That’s why I am proposing a plan to make this dream a reality starting with a 60% reduction in state income tax for year one.”
On the Governor Jim Justice YouTube page, Justice has answered a number of questions about the tax changes. This includes questions on border counties, from small business owners, taxes on professional services, vape taxes, the lack for a six-year budget proposal, young people leaving the state, the proposed intermediate court,
In several social media posts following the policy specifics, Senator and Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin responded to the proposed changes.
“We just received the governor’s personal income tax repeal proposal,” read the posts. “It’s complicated. … [An] increase of $902.6 million in new taxes [and a] decrease of $1.1 billion in personal income tax, [totaling in a] almost $200 million revenue loss. … The newest federal stimulus FORBIDS states from using the money to offset losses from tax reform, like eliminating the state income tax.”
Baldwin was one of several Democratic speakers in a press conference highlighting policies attempting to attract and keep youth in West Virginia. Noting that only “10 percent” of his graduating class from Greenbrier East High School stayed in state after graduation, he emphasized young people are leaving the state in droves.
“Our greatest export in the state of West Virginia is, unfortunately, our young people,” said Baldwin. “We want to talk today about how to get young people to stay in our state. … They don’t have job opportunities in their chosen fields. I think not all of them feel welcome here, they don’t feel like they have the cultural opportunities that they would have else. And, unfortunately, I don’t feel like a lot of our young people have hope for the future of West Virginia. They want to, we want to desperately, but we’re just not sure that we feel that.”
Democrats pushed back on the income tax repeal, with Baldwin noting “no young people have asked me to cut the income tax and [said] they’ll stay here in the state of West Virginia, but they do ask for educational assistance. … These are things [the Democrats] put forward … we’ve got to give our young people a reason to stay.”
The press conference touched specific bills, such as an adult use cannabis bill (House Bill 2665) and expanded PROMISE Scholarship for STEM fields (House Bill 2586), and general policies, such as addiction treatment, broadband expansion, protecting education, clean water, equality for all citizens, including protections from several anti-LGBTQ+ bills currently introduced in the Legislature.
“If you get right down to it, the difference … is that we listen to young people,” Baldwin said. “It’s really that simple – I’ve heard time and time again here reasons legislative leadership will give for doing certain things. ‘We’re doing this for our young people.’ … But none of those things are things young people want, because they haven’t talked to young people in the first place. They’re using young people as a justification [to] pursue their own agenda.”
Bills sponsored by Greenbrier County representatives also continue to work through both houses.
Two bills submitted by Governor Jim Justice through the Senate President and Minority Leader Baldwin have been passed by both chamber:
– Senate Bill 272 seeks to address the “gig” economy of workers, “distinguishing independent contractors from employees; applying classification provisions to workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation, wage payment and collection, and Human Rights Act matters; establishing classification criteria; setting forth limitations to applicability of the act; and providing for severability.” The bill has been passed by both the House and the Senate, with yeas from Bruce, Longanacre, and Woodrum, and a nay from Baldwin.
– Senate Bill 277 is the COVID-19 Jobs Protection Act, which would “eliminate the liability of the citizens of West Virginia [from] all suits and claims against any persons for loss, damages, personal injuries, or death arising from COVID-19.” The bill passed through the Senate (nay Baldwin, yea Woodrum) and the House (yeas Bruce, Longanacre).
In addition, two bills sponsored by Woodrum have been passed by both houses of the Legislature. This includes:
– Senate Bill 372 sets criteria for graduating medical professionals for a clinical training residency program when accreditation is not available and provides other considerations for graduating clinical training. In each of the votes called for this bill, no delegate or senator voted against it.
– Senate Bill 270 mandates a hotel “marketplace facilitator shall be responsible, on behalf of the hotel or hotel operator, for the collection and remittance of the tax imposed by any municipality or county.” This would include businesses such as AirBnB, something touched on by the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau in several meetings. The Senate passed the bill on February 24, with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum, and the House on March 9, with yeas from Bruce and Longanacre.
Senator Stephen Baldwin, in addition to the passed bills mentioned in previous weeks’ coverage (295, 102, 275, 392, 359), sponsored three bills that have now entered House committees.
– Senate Bill 39, prohibits insurance coverage from requiring prior authorization for physician prescribed tests to stage cancer, passed on March 9 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 344, changes guidelines around credit for “qualified rehabilitated buildings investment,” including providing for carryback and carryforward provisions for the tax credit, eliminating the termination date of the tax credit, and eliminating the maximum allowable amount of the tax credit. Passed by the Senate on March 9 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 368, creating the Reclamation of Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Program under the WV Department of Environmental Protection, was passed by the Senate on March 5 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
One bill sponsored by Delegate Barry Bruce has been passed by the House and is being considered in a Senate Committee.
– House Bill 2003, seeking to qualify the “authority and obligations” of the governor during a state of preparedness and emergency. Passed House, with Bruce and Longanacre voting yea.
Longanacre sponsored four bills passed by the House and that are under consideration in Senate committees:
– House Bill 2093 would require the Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home Program to provide an annual report to the governor and provide exceptions for homes reviewed by the program. The House passed the bill 98 yeas and two absents, with Bruce voting yea and Longanacre not voting. The bill is currently in the Senate Health and Human Resources committee.
– House Bill 2260 deals with obligations to enter into “performance-based” contacts with child-placing agencies. Passed by the House on February 23, the bill remains with the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.
– House Bill 2264 would create hospital exemptions from certificates of need. Passed by the House on February 16, the bill remains with the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee.
– House Bill 2791 would allow county boards of education to allow home or private schooled students to enroll or take classes in the county’s vocational schools. Passed by the House on March 3 (96-2-2), with yeas from Bruce and Longanacre, the bill is currently in the Senate Education Committee.
In addition to the bills mentioned in past weeks’ legislative coverage (332, 381, 501, 263, 66, 69), Woodrum sponsored more legislation passed by the Senate that is now in a House Committee:
– Senate Bill 339 further limits legal actions against agricultural and horticultural practices allowed within municipalities, now protecting aquaponics and hydroponics, storage, manufacturing, milling, or processing of products. Passed by the Senate on March 9 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 359 requires law enforcement officers, when they write a report on a crash that causes damage to any fence that could contain livestock, to “make a reasonable attempt following the accident to contact the landowner that owns the fence.” Passed by the Senate on March 2 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 421 would allow the Commissioner of Workforce West Virginia to create “up to 100 positions of the offices of WorkForce West Virginia” who “shall serve at the will and pleasure of the commissioner.” Passed by the Senate on March 8 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 429 exempts the Division of Emergency Management from requirements around contracts for purchase of commodities or services and allowed the Agency for Surplus Property to transfer funds “generated from the sale of vehicles, other equipment, and commodities belonging to the West Virginia Division of Emergency Management” to a special revenue account. Passed by the Senate on March 8 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 469 would allow for a notary public to notarize a document over “communication technology” under certain conditions. Passed by the Senate on March 8 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 7 would prohibit “a public employee or a public official may not engage in political activity while on duty; or while using any vehicle owned or leased by the State of West Virginia or any agency or political subdivision thereof” and could be subject to “potential sanctions, recommendation of termination from employment or removal from office” if caught. Passed on February 25 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 9 pushes requirements for the Licensed Racetrack Modernization Fund back from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2030. Passed on February 16 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Senate Bill 10 changes the date annual racetrack tables game license renewals fee is to October 1. Passed by the Senate on February 16 with yeas from Baldwin and Woodrum.
– Sponsored by both Woodrum and Baldwin, Senate Bill 1, allowing payment for telehealth services between service in-person and service provided through telehealth platforms, passed the Senate on February 23, and has been in House Health and Human Resources since.