Justice Needs More ‘Strange Bedfellows’

It is said that politics makes strange bedfellows.

Consider, then, Governor Jim Justice’s roundtable Monday to push for his tax plan.  Among the participants were Mitch Carmichael, Bill Cole and Woody Thrasher.

Justice hired Thrasher as his Commerce Secretary, but then later fired him. Thrasher ran unsuccessfully against Justice in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary Election last year, in a campaign that had its nasty moments.

Justice defeated Cole, a Republican, in the 2016 Governor’s race when Justice was a Democrat.

Carmichael had a mercurial relationship with Justice when Carmichael was Senate President, and directly criticized the Governor’s leadership.  But just last month, Justice hired Carmichael as the state’s economic development director.

So, what brought the four men together Monday?  The answer: Taxes.

Carmichael, Cole and Thrasher are all on board with Justice’s proposal to cut the state income tax by 60 percent, saving taxpayers about $1 billion, and then eliminate the rest of the tax in three years.

He would make up the lost revenue with a series of tax increases, including raising the sales tax from six percent to 7.9 percent, higher tobacco, alcohol and soda taxes, and a wealth tax on some luxury items.

The state Chamber of Commerce, the state Business and Industry Council and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses have all raised concerns about the plan.  One of their complaints is that the 60 percent reduction would not apply to most small businesses.

But Cole and Thrasher are both business owners and they support the tax bill.

Cole, who owns a car dealership, said he was surprised by the opposition from business organizations.  “Nobody likes change,” he said.

Thrasher, who owns an engineering company, agreed, calling the reaction from the business groups a “short-sighted, narrow view.”

The support from old foes must have done Justice’s heart good.  The Governor, who at times has taken a hands-off approach to legislating, has been all-in on his tax plan. He has refused to heed the advice of those who say his plan cannot pass.  He continues to campaign hard, hoping the public will convince reluctant lawmakers to get on board.

Meanwhile, the House of Delegates is moving its own tax plan.  It gradually lowers the state income tax until it is eliminated in about 12 years.  It is expected to pass the House, but its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

Justice getting Carmichael, Cole and Thrasher to pull the rope together is impressive.  It shows the Governor, who says he hates politics, does have some understanding of the necessity of building coalitions to achieve a desired goal.

Justice has an uneasy relationship with many members of the Legislature. Unfortunately for him, it is probably too late to assemble enough “strange bedfellows” in the Legislature to pass his tax bill.

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