CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On the final day of the legislative session, delegates argued about an hour over whether to accept a phase-in of the income tax cut on Social Security or make one final push to cut the tax all at once.
The House of Delegates first passed the Social Security tax cut on Feb. 1 as one, big cut of an estimated $50 million.
Then Senate waited about a month to take it up and amended in a three-year phase-in.
The bill now calls for the tax to be eliminated by 35 percent in the first year, 2020, increasing to 65 percent in the second year and to the full 100 percent in the third year.
The amendment also imposed a cap. The deduction is allowed only for married couples filing a joint return not over $100,000, or $50,000 for single individuals or a married individual filing a separate return.
The question delegates faced on Saturday was whether to agree to that change or fight it out.
Democrats pushed to maintain the House’s earlier position and fight it out in conference committee.
“I think it’s strange that we hear a lot of people arguing for tax cuts for the wealthy over there,” Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Kanawha, said of Democrats.
Other delegates drew the same conclusion but viewed it differently.
“If you read the paper, you’d think we’re the bad guys on cutting taxes,” said Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock.
Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, said he agreed with his colleague who represents the 1st District.
“I’m going to join with my colleague in the Fighting First on his call to cut taxes,” McGeehan said. “It’s now or never. I say we hold the line, we refuse to concur, we put this ball back in the Senate’s court.”
Most of the Republican majority said refusing to concur would mean taking a gamble. They suggested time could run out on the 60th day of the session before any resolution.
“We finally have it on the table. Let’s realize, we’re at the last day. We have less than 12 hours,” said Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “Does anybody want to take the chance that we lose the opportunity right now to give something to our seniors?
“We have a bird in the hand, and we can always come back next year, as has been mentioned, and we have the data. Right now, let’s take what we have in front of us, tell the seniors we really care about giving a tax break on Social Security.”
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, agreed that accepting the Senate’s version of the bill was the safest path.
“What our colleagues are proposing here is a pretty high-stakes game of chicken,” Espinosa said. “It does provide meaningful relief and a reasonable, predictable plan to move forward to provide complete relief over the next few years.”
Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, urged delegates not to let perfect be the enemy of good.
“We have found in my brief time here that we don’t always get perfect deals,” Porterfield said. “We need to concur with the Senate to make sure we get something, make sure it is secure. We need to take this as a victory, even though it’s not exactly what we wanted, and move forward.”
Delegates also had another brief disagreement over another move by the Senate.
A few days ago, House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick moved to amend a bill to add exemptions for Fairmont State and Shepherd from some key areas of oversight by the Higher Education Policy Commission.
When the Senate took that bill back up, senators refused to concur with that switch and sent back the bill, saying a floor amendment was not the proper path for such a significant change.
Some delegates like Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, wanted to refuse to concede the House’s earlier position.
Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, agreed.
“Fairmont State needs to be flexible and make changes quickly,” Waxman said.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, suggested slowing down is the wiser course.
This is a sea change to put in exemptions for two of the universities,” he said. “We need to study this. I think it’s appropriate.”
Delegates wound up voting to pass the bill without the additional flexibility for Fairmont State and Shepherd.