Possible amendment on personal property taxes moves to full Senate

The full Senate will soon consider a resolution that could allow lawmakers to lower personal property taxes, including on vehicles.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the resolution Friday after about an hour of discussion, and it will now be considered by the full chamber. If both houses of the Legislature endorses the resolution, it would be on 2022 General Election ballots as a constitutional amendment to be approved by the public.

Mike Maroney

“Any time we have an opportunity to let the people say and have a vote, I don’t know why we wouldn’t give them that opportunity,” said Senator Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.

“We need to let the people decide it, and future legislatures can decide how to handle it depending on the economy of those days.”

The Senate’s version advanced while a narrower House version is being considered too. The House version is more strictly focused on the property taxes that businesses pay.

The House Judiciary Committee plans a virtual public hearing on HJR 3, Property Tax Modernization Amendment, from 8 to 9 a.m.Monday, March 29. It will be streamed on the Legislature’s YouTube page.

The Senate resolution designates the issue as Amendment No. 1 also known as the “Motor Vehicle and Other Personal Property Tax Reduction Amendment.”

“The purpose of this amendment is to permit the Legislature to eliminate or lower the ad valorem personal property tax on motor vehicles and all other species of tangible personal property; to permit the Legislature to establish different statewide rates of taxation, rates of assessment, and methods of valuation for different species of tangible personal property; and to permit the Legislature to classify property as real property or personal property for ad valorem taxation.”

Property taxes are defined in West Virginia’s Constitution.

If voters approve a constitutional amendment to give the Legislature more flexibility, future legislatures could makes changes to personal property taxes — including machinery and equipment for manufacturers, inventory for businesses or automobiles for average citizens.

A fiscal note reached no conclusion about the potential cost: “There is no way to know what exemptions for real and personal property, rate changes or changes to assessment levels that future Legislature may enact.”

Most of the money from personal property tax goes to county school boards, county commissions and municipalities.

Jennifer Piercy

Jennifer Piercy, executive director of the county commissions association of West Virginia, said those local governments want to be involved in these decisions. She urged caution.

“We do have major concerns when it comes to the future of the continuity of county governments,” Piercy told senators. “This creates a great cloud of uncertainty for counties.”

Senator Ron Stollings

Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, agreed.

“I just worry about our counties,” he said. “We’re not necessarily messing with the state budget, but we’re certainly messing with the county budgets.”

The Senate Finance Committee passed another resolution too.

Senate Joint Resolution 1 could lead to the “Protection of the Right to Bear Arms Amendment.”

It would specify in the state Constitution that local governments could not pass gun laws stricter than state code. Again, both chambers of the Legislature would need to pass this by a two-thirds majority, and then the citizens would vote on the possible constitutional amendment.

The proposed amendment is summarized as: “To amend the State Constitution to prohibit the state, counties, municipalities or other political subdivisions of the state from restricting the right to keep and bear arms.“

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