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Editorial: Residents cannot bear higher taxes

The Journal editorial

When politicians begin talking about “tax reform,” their constituents often are right to worry about tax increases. Too often, raising more money — not making tax codes simpler, fairer or more attractive to job creators — is behind “reform” movements.

It shouldn’t be allowed to happen in West Virginia.

Last year, state legislators began an intensive, comprehensive look at the state’s tax structure. Republican lawmakers came to the conclusion that phasing out the state personal income tax would be a good way to convince more people and businesses to move to West Virginia.

Because the personal income tax brings in about $1.9 billion a year, nearly half the general revenue budget, simply doing away with it was not an option. Other taxes had to be adjusted upward to replace the lost income, lawmakers decided.

After weeks of controversy over how to accomplish that prudently, legislators finally came to a decision. Bills phasing out the income tax and increasing other taxes were written.

Not a one of them has been enacted.

That was on Gov. Jim Justice’s mind when he launched into a tirade against legislators — sparing neither fellow Democrats nor Republicans — last week. Justice vetoed the budget bill lawmakers sent him, demanding they try again. He wants about $244 million in higher taxes.

In discussing the matter, Justice said that during the Legislature’s final days in session, he believed an agreement on both a budget and a tax reform measure had been reached between his office and Republican state senators.

On Thursday, he was critical of failure to approve both actions.

“I’m very happy the governor recognizes that we need tax reform to get the budget done,” reacted state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

But, Jackson added, “there’s no appetite to do an overarching tax increase.”

That may have come as a disappointment to Justice. Clearly, he hopes a tax reform bill will include tax increases to fund his big government agenda.

Legislators should not go along with that. They should approve steps toward tax reform, but they simply have to be as revenue-neutral as possible.

Mountain State residents and businesses cannot afford higher taxes. Disguising them as “reform” would be doubly infuriating.

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