CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates expects to pass its own revenue bill today, setting up the need to settle differences with the state Senate somehow.
House members were expecting to approve the bill on 2nd and 3rd readings in short order, providing their version of a plank that could be key to settling on a state budget for the coming fiscal year.
The bill now seems to have support from both Democrats and Republicans in the House.
“Obviously it’s just one of the first stops on a lot of work we still have to do on it, but I think this is one of the times we’ve actually had an opportunity to see some bipartisan work on a bill,” said longtime Democratic Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
“There may be some people who have some concerns or heartburn over some things that are there or not there, but overall I think we’ll have some good bipartisan support for the bill. It’ll go to the Senate, and it’ll give us an opportunity in the days to come to find out what we agree on and work out what we have differences on and hopefully we can do that and expedite the process.”
But the delegates’ bill differs significantly from one that passed the state Senate earlier this week during special session.
The Senate’s would raise the state sales tax to 6.95 percent while lowering the personal income tax by an average of 20 percent over two years, with the aim of phasing it out over time. It also restructures severance taxes on coal, taxing by current market value.
The House’s version leaves the sales tax at 6 percent and abandons the broader income tax reductions. However, it does provide income tax exemptions for veterans’ retirement — as the Senate’s also does — and eliminates income tax on Social Security over a few years. It also adds new sales taxes to economic sectors such as telecommunications, communications, electronic data processing, health and fitness services and primary opinion research. It gets rid of the severance tax restructuring.
Got all that?
Well, senators and delegates will somehow have to figure out the differences and determine where they can agree, if anywhere.
Assuming the full House passes its version, Speaker Tim Armstead would like to have talks over the weekend to see if any common ground can be found.
“I do think that whichever way we do it, we have a couple of options,” Armstead said. “One is for one house to put their version in the other and send it over in a formal conference committee. Or we could just say we now have two different plans on the table — maybe we take the weekend or a few days, and now let’s discuss those and where there might be common ground between the two plans.
“I think I would probably prefer the latter, but either way we do it we need to make sure we don’t have everyone just waiting here. I think it’s going to be up to a smaller group of legislators at this point, whether that’s a formal conference committee or more informally talking, to sit down and come up with common ground. I don’t think we want all 134 legislators just sitting around while we do that at a cost of $35,000 a day.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael predicted the Senate will insert its own revenue bill into the House’s version and move toward conference committee.
“And we’ll send it back to them. Obviously they’ll reject our amendment and then we’ll go to conference.”
Carmichael agreed with Armstead that most lawmakers should go home until there’s a resolution in place.
Both houses have been working on revenue bills but they don’t actually have a budget bill because the Justice administration has been holding back on introducing it. The administration has wanted lawmakers to work on passing a revenue bill first.
“It is vitally important that we get that budget because each chamber needs to build their budget around the revenue that we have brought forth with our tax reform proposals,” Carmichael said. “The House will be in the position of having to adjust the budget based on that tax reform proposal they have brought forth through the Finance Committee. Unless it’s amended it will be a very difficult budget to balance.”
No fiscal assessment has yet been prepared for either house’s revenue bill. The House’s version is thought to resolve about $100 million of the state budget gap, which could leave about $100 million still to go.
The Senate’s version aims to raise the sales tax at the start of the new fiscal year while lowering the personal income tax six months later, resulting in a revenue cushion to balance the coming year’s budget.
“Our proposal with tax reform will allow us to roughly spend what we spent last year, if any more just very little more,” Carmichael said. “In terms of inflation adjusted dollars this government will shrink this year, which should please those who like the rest of us West Virginians have to live within our means.
“It will shrink dramatically in the House budget. If they can pass that, more power to ’em. At the end of the day I’m very pleased that the House has taken action through the one committee to get a revenue proposal in place. I’m very anxious and hopeful that they can send to the Senate a tax reform plan that we can start a conference committee.”