By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice took to the Senate floor Tuesday to rally Senate members on the merits of a tax reform plan he achieved with Senate leadership — a measure central to their plans for a 2018 state budget.
Minutes later members passed the legislation, which is similar to a revenue bill already rejected by the House.
It is unusual for a sitting governor to come to a legislative chamber to push a proposal. But that didn’t stop Justice from sitting in a chair in front of the Senate president’s podium to have a heart-to-heart chat with Senate members.
His words came as lawmakers convened for the fourth day of special session called for the purposes of crafting a 2018 fiscal budget.
“We all need to work together here,” Justice said. “You’re on the cusp of passing legislation that is unbelievable.”
Senate Bill 1007, the “Tax Reform Act of 2017,” was approved in the Senate by a largely partisan vote of 19-11. Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio; Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke; and Sen. Charles Clements all voted for the bill, while Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, was among four senators not present.
The legislation differs only slightly from a revenue bill, SB 1004, passed May 5 by the Senate, according to Ferns:
∫ The new bill would reduce the state’s personal income tax rates by 15 percent in 2018, and an additional 5 percent in 2019. Originally, the Justice-Senate plan called for a 20-percent reduction in the first year, with additional reductions to occur if specific triggers were met.
∫ It would raise the state’s sales tax to 6.95 percent — slightly lower than the original rate of 7 percent.
∫ Corporate net income taxes would be decreased by 0.5 percent.
∫ The top income tax bracket would now include those earning more than $200,000 annually. The earlier legislation set the top bracket at $300,000.
Ferns said the changes were an attempt to accommodate concerns raised by the House, which has thus far rejected any measure containing tax increases.
“By and large, it is very similar to the one passed last time,” he said. “I think they will at least take it up, and make their own changes — as is customary for any bill. Then they will pass it back. Unfortunately, I think their rejection the last time was more about sending a political message than anything of substance.”
The Legislature still has yet to receive a budget bill during the special session called for the purpose of crafting a budget for fiscal year 2017, but Ferns said it is forthcoming from Justice’s office.
Senate Democrats took issue with the plan offered by the Democrat governor Justice, and offered an amendment Tuesday to SB 1007 that would have eliminated all references to lowering the state’s income tax rates. Their amendment would instead abolish taxation of Social Security income.
The Democrats’ measure was defeated by a vote of 12 members in favor, and 18 against.
“For me to have to pay tax on Social Security, I would have to have $25,000 in other income before it is taxable,” Clements said on the Senate floor. “For a married couple, the amount is $32,000. Those people most vulnerable already are not paying tax on Social Security.”
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