The Back Pew – April 29th, 2017

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By Stephen Baldwin

A special session on the budget won’t start from scratch.

Instead, it will be based on the compromise proposal between Gov. Justice and Senator Carmichael. The proposal seeks to ensure everyone plays a role in securing the state’s fiscal stability. The details are still being debated, but the proposal looks like this:

ROADS. Send a road bond to the voters this year, and then combine those bonds with matching federal funds, increases in vehicle registration fees (from the current $30 per car to $50 per car), tolls (from the current $2 per toll to $4), and a gas tax (increase 4.5 cents per gallon) to do over $2 billion in building and repairing our roads/bridges.

JOBS. For every $1 billion you invest in building roads, you create 20,000 jobs. Our $2+ billion investment equates to the creation of 48,000 jobs.

CHEAP EZ PASS. Though tolls go up, everyone will be able to buy an EZ Pass to go through an unlimited number of tolls annually for $8. Anyone who makes one trip to Charleston already pays that much! This would save us money.

DRUG TREATMENT. $120 million from awarded road contracts is taken off the top and designated for adding drug treatment beds across the state.

VETERANS TAX CUT. Veterans no longer pay any state income tax.

SALES TAX. The sales tax rate is raised from 6% to 7%.  Food remains exempt, as would medical items, real estate transactions, and other professional services (lawyers, accounts, architects). Haircuts, fitness memberships, cell phone bills, and public opinion research polls are all taxed.

SEVERANCE TAX. Instead of flat taxes on coal and natural gas, this plan adopts a tiered severance tax. During good times when prices are up, taxes rise. During lean times when prices are down, they drop.

INCOME TAX CUT. The income tax, which is the state’s largest revenue source and your largest state tax out of your pocket, decreases in stages beginning next fiscal year. If our economy improves, it continues to decrease. If not, it stays in place.

WEALTH TAX.  Citizens making over $300,000/year pay an additional “wealth tax” based on how much they make.

COMMERCIAL ACTIVITIES TAX. Businesses pay 0.00045% on their gross income. In other words, a business that makes $100,000/year would pay $45. The Chamber of Commerce supports this proposal.

CUTS. The proposal avoids further cuts to higher education and Medicaid.

SUNSETS. Most of the taxes in the proposal “sunset” (are removed) in three years.

BOTTOM LINE. Our state is in serious trouble. We need a responsible plan for the future. Can we keep cutting and honestly expect to recover? Or is time to rebuild our state and bring it back to life? I don’t like every part of the proposal; no one will. But it’s time to lead. Time to compromise. Time to rebuild West Virginia. Time to pass a responsible budget.

That’s the view from the back pew this week. Be well, friends!

(Delegate Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and member of the WV House. You may reach him at (304) 404-4207 or stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov.)