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Eastern Panhandle lawmakers hopeful for session


The Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State representatives made the journey back to Charleston to attend the special session called by Gov. Jim Justice, who has not yet placed the budget on the agenda.

Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley, said Justice has placed four bills on the agenda, and he is not alarmed that the budget is not one of them.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley

“The governor can amend the call later to add the budget,” Barrett said. “I think he wants to get through these four bills first.”

The four bills on call at the moment are issues the House and Senate discussed during the regular session as well. Barrett said one of the bills deals with tax reform. The bill proposes to increase consumer taxes from six percent to seven percent, as well as eliminate certain tax exemptions. For example, Barrett said the new bill would charge sales tax on cellphone and landline bills.

Legislators are also tasked with discussing a gas tax increase of approximately eight cents per gallon in the state. Using those funds, Barrett said Justice has discussed improving the state’s infrastructure. As part of the gas tax, DMV vehicle registration fees would increase from $30 to $50 as well, according to Barrett.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, said the tax increases on West Virginians would generate a $252.9 million net tax increase for the 2018 fiscal year, and a $63.6 million increase for the 2019 fiscal year.

“The bill would try to extract funds from the people of the state,” Folk said.

Folk said the special session is a waste of taxpayer funds without a plan for the budget. Disorganization and rumors have also abounded in Charleston during representatives’ first day back, according to Folk and Barrett.

“Things have not run smoothly,” Barrett said. “We’ve heard rumors all day long about things that may be happening.”

Barrett does not believe the tax reforms will have enough support to pass the House, and he said the gas tax increase may not pass either. However, he said the two percent pay raise for state teachers and state toll road increases may have enough support to pass.

The toll increases would raise West Virginia toll rates from $2 to $4, and would allow travelers to purchase an annual pass for $8 per vehicle, according to Barrett.

Folk said increasing tax credit for rehabilitating historic structures is another idea that may pass the House. The proposal would increase the tax credits from 10 percent to 25 percent, making West Virginia more competitive with other states.

However, Folk said he believes some of Justice’s other ideas are not as beneficial for the state.

According to Folk, Justice is seeking to increase taxes on metallurgical coal used in steel production while decreasing tax for steam coal. Folk said Justice owns steam coal plants in West Virginia, but he also owns metallurgical coal plants in neighboring states. By increasing the tax for metallurgical coal in West Virginia, Folk said Justice would make his coal companies in neighboring states more competitive. Folk believes Justice has self-serving intentions behind the coal tax proposals.

Barrett said he hopes the House, Senate and governor can come together to find a solution for West Virginia.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that people will come to their right mind soon, and we can get things accomplished,” Folk said.

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