CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senators took a first look at a resolution that could later allow them to cut taxes on motor vehicles and other personal property.
The Senate Judiciary Committee discussed the resolution for about three hours Thursday afternoon before a majority of members voted to pass it. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for more discussion of its possible financial effects.
Final passage would require two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Then West Virginia citizens would vote on an amendment because property taxes are embedded in the state Constitution.
Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow reminded senators that because the public vote on any amendment would come prior to any legislative decision on cutting a tax, there would be a lag in any effect.
“The earliest time there would be any impact would be fiscal ‘23,” he said. “The ability to do something doesn’t mean that action is taken to do this.”
This is one of two property tax resolutions in the Senate. The other would allow property taxes for manufacturers to be cut.
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee tended to intertwine the property taxes affected by the two resolutions during their discussion.
Although Judiciary had the resolution to discuss constitutional issues, finances were often a focus of remarks.
Republicans, who generally support the tax cuts, asked questions about the possibility of economic and job growth that could result from manufacturers reinvesting.
“Is it accurate to say we could be missing out on a whole lot of manufacturing that could be coming to West Virginia if we didn’t have this tax?” asked Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood.
Democrats questioned how to make up for the lost tax revenue. Much of the money from property taxes flows to support county governments and local school systems.
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, noted that many counties already struggle to pay their regional jail bills. Harrison County, he said, gains millions of dollars from property taxes collected by the state.
“Let me tell you, that would blow a big hole in the budget,” Romano said.
Senator Richard Lindsey, D-Kanawha, asked about projections that show the potential for significant state budget deficits over the coming few years.
In recent months, severance tax collections have been lower than projected because of weaker coal exports and lower natural gas prices.
“It’ll be a tight scenario until we work out the energy situation,” Muchow told Lindsey.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, suggested the ability to cut property taxes could give future lawmakers greater ability to entice manufacturing investment.
“This simply gives future legislatures the ability to shift taxes around, to make us a positive landing spot for some of those places to come,” Takubo said.
Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy also spoke before the committee. He said manufacturers indicate the biggest factor in their decisions about locating in West Virginia is a skilled workforce.
Romano asked him, “What do you think would be our counties and our boards of education?”
Boettner responded that health care, volunteer fire departments, prosecutors offices and sheriff’s departments could be affected.
“The Legislature would have to backfill that with some sort of dedicated revenue source,” Boettner said.