CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After weeks of discussion and two hours of floor debate, there was not enough support in the state Senate to pass a resolution allowing citizens to vote on a constitutional amendment allowing the property tax changes.

The vote was 18-16, but the resolution required a two-thirds majority.

“This Republican tax scheme does nothing but cut taxes for out of state corporations while increasing taxes for our citizens,” stated Senator Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, leader of the Democratic caucus that lined up against the resolution.

“We could not in good conscience vote for an amendment to our Constitution that would have left the people with little say in how, what or who will be taxed in West Virginia.”

The tax overhaul package was represented by two pieces of legislation.

One, Senate Joint Resolution 9, was to allow the constitutional flexibility to cut the property taxes.

Passing a resolution leading to a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority vote. With 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the House, that would require 23 senators to vote for the resolution.

An amendment would be subject to a vote of West Virginia’s citizens.

Charles Trump

Republicans made that vote the thrust of their message on Tuesday. They urged their fellow senators to give citizens a chance to vote on an amendment.

“We have to trust the people of West Virginia,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, when introducing the resolution.

A companion bill. Senate Bill 837, is meant to actually change the tax code if the amendment were to pass. That bill narrowly passed, 17-16, after more than two hours of debate on Monday.

Paul Hardesty

The tax cut proposal has been under discussion for months, with skeptics asking how the money would be made up to county governments and school systems that depend on property taxes.

“I believe my county will be severely impaired by the passage of this resolution. I just don’t see any way of avoiding that,” said Senator Paul Hardesty, D-Logan.

Supporters were aiming to boost manufacturing investment in West Virginia by cutting inventory and machinery taxes for companies. Inventory taxes on retailers would also be cut under the proposal.

Eric Tarr

“This is a bill to help families in West Virginia. It’s also a bill to bring jobs to West Virginia,” said Senator Eric Tarr, R-Putnam.

Perhaps as a sweetener for average citizens, the proposal would cut personal property taxes on vehicles.

That all would have added up to a $300 million, six-year phase-out.

To make up for that, lawmakers had proposed  increasing sales taxes by a half-penny and boosting taxes on tobacco products.

That would have returned about $200 million.

The rest was meant to be made up through growth — and by the tax increases being active and flowing into a fund prior to the full phase-out of the other taxes.

To the skeptics, that didn’t add up.

Richard Lindsay

“What was discussed is a tax benefit for big business on the backs of West Virginians,” said Senator Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha.

Less formal debate over the resolution went on all day in the hallways of the Capitol.

Just prior to the vote, Senate President Mitch Carmichael and fellow Republicans huddled with state media to make one final pitch that the resolution represents a way to take the tax issue directly to the citizens.

Craig Blair

Earlier, Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair and Prezioso, the leader of the Democrats, sat side by side on MetroNews’ “Talkline” to discuss the resolution and tax overhaul.

Blair, like others, emphasized giving citizens a chance to vote on an amendment.

“The voters get to decide,” said Blair, R-Berkeley.

“They get to decide whether taxpayers, the voters of West Virginia, whether they like Senate Bill 837 or not. If we don’t pass this out today, the House of Delegates never gets to see this either.”

Roman Prezioso

Prezioso said his concern is sales tax increases to make up for property tax reductions for manufacturers.

“We don’t see this bill putting West Virginians first,” Prezioso said.

“The question is, how do you backfill those taxes? You’re putting the burden back on citizens rather than giving them relief.”

Rebecca McPhail

Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, also appeared on “Talkline.”

She said the legislation would increase greater investment in manufacturing in West Virginia.

“We’ve been doing the same thing in West Virginia for a long time. We’re clearly an outlier,” McPhail said.

“We’re the region’s biggest loser when it comes to manufacturing jobs. We’re the only state that’s lost them in our region. That’s discouraging.”

She said the legislation could provide relief for the expenses that modern manufacturers face for investing in equipment.

“The things that are making manufacturing jobs better are the things that are making the industry very expensive,” McPhail said.

After the resolution was rejected, the manufacturers association put out a statement of disappointment.

“Today’s vote by the West Virginia Senate, largely on party lines, robbed West Virginia voters of the opportunity to have the final say in whether that tax reform should happen,” McPhail stated.