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Mid-Ohio Valley lawmakers stand firm against tax increases


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

CHARLESTON. W.Va.  — Local state lawmakers are standing firm in their resolve not to see any additional tax increases as Gov. Jim Justice called a special session for the West Virginia Legislature to work out a budget for the state.

One Wood County lawmaker said he does not see either side backing down on what they want in the budget.

Lawmakers are expected to report back to the state Capitol today to begin work on a new budget proposal and other issues.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, who met with Justice on Wednesday, said Justice has not submitted a budget plan different from the last one.

Del. John Kelly, R-Wood

“In our discussion he told me if he doesn’t get what he wants he will veto,” Kelly said Wednesday. “If he does veto it falls on his shoulders. He has already received a budget with no increases or fees; it was clear and fell in the amount we have forecasted to have.”

Kelly said he does not see either side changing what they want in a budget.

“In my discussions with him (Justice), I believe he has dug in and he wants all or nothing and he’s going to push his way through and force what he wants on the rest of us,” Kelly said. “I don’t think that’s good for the state,” he said.

“I don’t see the House leadership falling in total line with everything he (Justice) wants. There is going to be some pushback. We’re not going to give him carte blanche approval; we’re looking at a $300 million tax increase,” Kelly said.

“We are looking out for the people of West Virginia and we have to do what is right and get the right things done,” Kelly said.

If Justice vetoes another budget, Kelly said, West Virginia will find itself in a position similar to the federal government.

“We might have to pass a resolution to keep all spending at current levels, just like the federal government did, to stop a shutdown,” he said. “However on July 1, there will be no money.”

Kelly said when the special session begins at 11 a.m. today he does not foresee a long session.

“It won’t be a session like last year,” he said. “If we don’t get something we might recess and appoint a committee to work on the budget and the rest go home and help when needed.”

Wednesday afternoon, Justice officially called for today’s special session. The proclamation from the governor outlines the four separate bills that will be taken up by the Legislature to fix the budget crisis, according to a press release issued from the Governor’s Office.

“The four bills are the result of bipartisan negotiations,” the press release said. “Passing all of the legislation will fully implement the governor’s road building plan to create 48,000 jobs and spare West Virginians from painful cuts.”

Bill 1 will deal with revenue and will include income tax reduction; Military Retirement Exemption; Consumer Sales Tax; Corporate Net Income Tax; the Wealthy West Virginian Tax; Coal Severance Tax Reform; Gas Severance Tax Reform and the Historical Tax Credit.

Bill 2 will deal with road funding, including the gasoline tax and DMV fees.

Bill 3 will also deal with road funding in regard to the Parkways Authority.

Bill 4 will deal with a teacher pay raise, including a 2 percent raise for classroom teachers.

Last month, Justice vetoed the $4.1 billion budget passed by the Legislature toward the end of its regular session.

Although Justice thought he had a deal worked out with the Senate leadership on the budget in the final hours, the Senate and House passed a budget with steeper cuts and no tax increases.

Under state law, the Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget.

Kelly said the Legislature approved a budget that fit the state’s needs.

“We gave him a budget to live within our means,” Kelly said. “You have to budget within the means and we are telling him we have to live within them right now; there is too much unemployment to increase taxes and fees.

“We can’t afford that; if you increase taxes you do it in good times, not in bad times,” Kelly said.

Kelly said nothing has been said about reinstating the sales tax on food, but he sees a lot of pushback from the House on a hike in the general sales tax.

“Justice has talked about going up to seven percent. That will raise the tax to eight percent in the home rule cities,” he said. “In the border counties, like Wood, we will lose business with people going across the state lines. For the poor counties in the middle of the state they are going to face the burden to pay that.”

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said lawmakers have to work on what the governor puts forward.

Delgate Bill Anderson, R-Wood

“The governor will set the agenda for the special session,” Anderson said.

In discussions Anderson has had with other lawmakers, he believed they might get revenue measurements and other proposals from the Governor’s Office.

People in Wood County are concerned about the shape of state roadways and something needs to be done to address those, Anderson said.

Some of the tax increases proposed during the regular session would put border counties, like Wood County, at a disadvantage as people could cross over into Ohio to get goods and services at a cheaper price, Anderson said.

Anderson said it appeared to him that the governor has been doing most of his negotiating with the Senate leadership with the House expected to go along.

“That is not the mood in the House,” Anderson said. “There are going to be some interesting times ahead.”

Delegate Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, said indications are the governor still wants the tax increases he was proposing during the regular session, including increases to the state’s gas tax and increases to the DMV fees.

“As part of the House majority, we oppose those increases and putting more of a burden on the people of West Virginia,” Hollen said.

There is no timeline set on how long the special session will last.

However, with both sides apparently set on their priorities, Hollen was not sure how much time will be needed to work out a budget.

“I am not sure how long it is going to take,” he said.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said how long the session takes is up to Justice.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be short, and hopefully the governor won’t be so obstinate and stubborn on some of these items,” Azinger said.

Justice vetoed the Senate and House budget that included no tax increases, and Azinger said he’s stubborn himself when it comes to keeping tax hikes out of the state’s spending plan.

“I think we’re taxed too much in West Virginia already,” he said. “We’re looking for the governor to come our way.”

Azinger said the only way he’ll vote for any kind of tax increase is if it’s accompanied by a “major” reduction in the state income tax.

Although there are other issues on the agenda, Anderson said lawmakers need to focus on the state’s fiscal situation.

“We need to deal with the budget,” he said.

(Staff writers Jeffrey Saulton and Evan Bevins contributed to this story.)

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