By Matt Young, West Virginia Press Association News Sharing
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – “West Virginia has no problems that more jobs won’t solve, and Amendment 2 will help us get there.”
Day-three of the West Virginia Chamber Annual Meeting and Business Summit at the Greenbrier Resort featured a panel-discussion regarding the proposal of Amendment 2 to the state’s constitution. The panel – consisting of both business leaders and lawmakers – was moderated by W.Va. Chamber Vice President of Policy & Advocacy Brian Dayton.
Amendment 2 will be a referendum on the November general election ballot to be adopted or rejected by West Virginia voters.
According to the text of the proposed amendment, its intention is to grant the “Legislature authority to exempt tangible machinery, equipment, and inventory directly used in business activity and personal property tax on motor vehicles.” It should be noted, however, that while the passage of Amendment 2 would endow the legislature with power to grant certain personal property tax exemptions, it would not result in an immediate “across the board” repeal of personal property taxes.
After complimenting the audience for being part of the largest attendance ever for the annual business summit, W.Va. Chamber President and CEO Steve Roberts said, “Amendment 2 will help us continue the progress. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to change a 19-year-old provision of our constitution. We need to do this.”
Roberts added that “West Virginia has no problems that more jobs won’t solve, and Amendment 2 will help us get there.”
Rebecca McPhail, President of the W.Va. Manufacturers Association was next to offer her thoughts, saying, “What we’re really looking at now is an industry that has retracted over the last several decades. Certainly our tax structure in West Virginia is the reason for that.”
“We’re in a situation where we’re not just competing in a global economy – we’re competing in our own companies for where we invest critical capital dollars,” McPhail further explained. “West Virginia is out of step with the rest of the country when it comes to that.”
McPhail noted that states such as Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan benefit from tax structures which are “more friendly to manufacturing and investment, and less punitive to the capital requirements of running a strong manufacturing economy.”
“Amendment 2 is the only way to open the door for serious policy discussion,” McPhail added.
A counter argument for Amendment Number 2, as Dayton explained, is that its passage will deprive schools, police departments, and emergency services of necessary financial resources, and that it would “bankrupt our counties.” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, disagreed.
“Passage of the amendment does nothing but give the Legislature the power to start considering some tax reform,” Hansahw told those in attendance. “It costs not a dime.”
“I have two children in the public school system,” Hanshaw continued. “I defy anyone to say that I want to defund the public schools. My wife teaches in the public school system – I want that school system to be funded very well for as long as it exists.”
“My home is served by two volunteer fire departments,” Hanshaw added. “I want them to come to my home if my house is on fire. To think that I’m going to take action that defunds local services is frankly ridiculous.”
Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, then spoke about how the Legislature could move forward if Amendment 2 is adopted by voters.
“The voters have expectations come November,” Blair began. “We’re in our fourth year of a flat-line budget. It’s $136 million a year of controlled growth. That money is sitting there. We’ve been using it for one-time expenditures. But it’s there, year after year, as long as you control the growth in government.”
“We’re in our fourth year, ladies and gentlemen,” Blair noted. “That oughta be in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.”
“Seventy percent of the jobs that are created in this state are created by West Virginia businesses that are already here,” Blair explained. “They’re the ones that have been carrying the load on the personal property tax. This is about not just bringing new businesses to the State of West Virginia – it’s about making it so businesses already in West Virginia can succeed.”
Tax Attorney Michael E. Carly was the final member of the panel to offer his thoughts, saying, “We need a system that works and encourages investment in West Virginia, so I strongly support this amendment.”
At the conclusion of the panel-discussion, Hanshaw noted, “Our moral commitment as a Legislature is to not be irresponsible with the resources that we’re entrusted to manage.”
Election Day in West Virginia is Nov. 8.