The most common question heard under the State Capitol dome when discussing a particular bill is, “Do you have the votes?”
The merits of legislation, or the lack thereof, are clearly important. However, the hard truth of the legislative process is that only bills with a majority of votes—51 in the House and 18 in the Senate, if all members are present—will pass.
With that in mind, the buzz in Charleston is that Governor Justice’s tax plan does not have the votes necessary to pass in the House of Delegates.
As we have reported and written about here, Justice’s plan is huge—a 60 percent reduction, and eventual elimination, of the state income tax. The loss of more than $2 billion in general revenue funds would be made up with a series of tax increases, including raising the sales tax from the current six percent to 7.9 percent.
Several House Republicans supportive of an income tax cut blanch at the idea of corresponding tax increases. Additionally, two major state business organizations—the Business and Industry Council and the Chamber of Commerce—have both raised serious concerns about the plan.
Chamber President Steve Roberts said on Talkline Monday the organization applauds Justice’s desire to get rid of the income tax, but its members oppose the corresponding tax increases. “To rob Peter to pay Paul is not the best solution,” Roberts said.
The Chamber’s position provoked an angry response from Justice during his Monday briefing. “Just think about where the Chamber of Commerce has led West Virginia the last 50 years,” Justice said. “You know what they have done? They have led us to dead last, dead last, dead last.”
But there may be another avenue for the tax plan.
House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder said on Talkline he is preparing a substitute for the Governor’s bill. Householder’s plan would gradually reduce the state income tax over a period of years, making up the difference through cuts in state spending and natural growth in revenue.
Householder met with the Governor Monday morning to discuss his plan. It is unclear whether Justice is willing to sacrifice his plan for a proposal that may be more acceptable to the Legislature. Justice believes the strength of his plan is that it is a big, bold approach rather than piecemeal.
On a side note, the relationship between the Governor and many Republicans in the Legislature was strained over the selection of a new Republican Party Chair over the weekend.
Some Republican leaders wanted former party chair Conrad Lucas back in the position. However, Justice opposed Lucas because he ran the campaign of Woody Thrasher, who challenged Justice in the 2020 Gubernatorial Primary Election.
Justice originally wanted his campaign manager, Roman Stauffer, for the job. Apparently, when it was evident that Stauffer did not have enough support, Justice switched his backing to Raleigh County GOP Chair Mark Harris. He was elected by state Republican Party leaders over Lucas 56-53.
Some lawmakers are turned off by the Governor’s aggressive approach over the GOP chairman. That, plus a very different view of how to handle the income tax, could be a strain that’s hard to overcome as the regular session steams toward a conclusion.