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Conference committee to hammer out West Virginia tax reform


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — The West Virginia Legislature is close to achieving an agreement on tax reform — and overcoming a major obstacle en route to a 2018 state budget.

West Virginia Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, center, confers with Richie Heath, chief counsel, left, and Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, Wednesday.
(Photo by Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography)

On Wednesday, Senate and House leadership named members to a conference committee tasked with hammering out the chambers’ differences on House Bill 107, also known as the “Tax Reform Act of 2017.” Among those selected were Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, and Delegate David Pethtel, R-Wetzel.

“As far as I know, a framework (for tax reform) is agreed to by a majority of members in the House and Senate,” Ferns said. “We are supposed to go to conference committee … to discuss how the triggers will be structured.”

Conference committee members convened Wednesday afternoon, just after the House session ended. They are also set to resume talks at 9 a.m. today.

The full Senate is scheduled to convene today at 11 a.m.; and the House, at 3 p.m.

Ferns did not expect the committee to reach a consensus on Wednesday night. It is still not known by lawmakers just what effect the tax changes will have on projected revenue in West Virginia next year.

“You can’t have a fiscal note until something has been formally presented or adopted,” he said. “It’s too much work to generate a fiscal note on something that is uncertain.”

Other Senate members on the committee include Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha; Craig Blair, R-Berkeley; Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; and Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam.

Not tapped for the committee were Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam; or Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Tax Reform.

In addition to Pethtel, others House members on the conference committee are House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; and Brent Boggs, R-Braxton.

The current state budget expires with the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and failure by the Legislature to set a new budget in place by that time could result in a state government shutdown.

Justice last week met separately with Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate to present his latest tax reform proposal, which would increase West Virginia’s sales tax from 6 percent to 6.35 percent.

A prior plan passed by the Senate would set the sales tax at 7.25 percent.

The plan also includes an across-the-board 7-percent personal income tax decrease beginning in 2018, with additional decreases of 7 percent for 2018 and 6 percent in the following years if economic triggers are achieved.

There were 14 members of the Senate absent on Wednesday, and among them was Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall. Ferns and Sens. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel; and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, were present.

In the House, as many as 15 members were absent throughout the day.

All Northern Panhandle legislators were in attendance.

Wednesday was the 12th day in special session for the House, and the 11th day for the Senate.

Each day of the special session is estimated to cost taxpayers $35,000.

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