House takes up income tax bill, but governor and Senate leaders remain split

Senate President Craig Blair doesn’t favor the governor’s income tax proposal right now. The governor, meanwhile, says the Senate majority’s property tax plan is too weighed down by complications.

These are not, apparently, two great tastes that taste great together.

Nevertheless, the House Finance Committee passed the governor’s preferred bill Tuesday morning during a special legislative session. The proposed income tax cut now will be considered among all delegates on the House floor, where it seems likely to pass that chamber without much change. Then the Senate would get the bill.

It’s hard to envision a successful School House Rock-style ending, though, when the governor and Senate leaders don’t agree.

Blair says he’s glad the special session that was called for the income tax cut has provided an opportunity to talk about the personal property tax cut.

Craig Blair

“We’re butting heads, but I’d like to thank the governor for making the (special session) call because what’s it’s done is it’s bringing greater awareness to the counties and to the public so that in November when they go to the ballot they can trust the Legislature. If they vote yes on the personal property tax, we have every intention of being able to take care of this and take this tax away,” Blair said.

West Virginians vote in the General Election on a constitutional amendment that would give legislators the ability to change property taxes.

The legislative proposal to cut property taxes isn’t set in stone yet, but  estimates suggest it could amount to more than $500 million — with the state needing to reimburse counties that are dependent on property taxes to provide local services. Public debate has focused on taxes on vehicles and businesses’ equipment, machinery and inventory.

“I am not opposed to reducing the personal income tax, but it’s a chicken or the egg in this case — and in this case we’ve got the resources to do the personal property tax,” Blair, R-Berkeley, said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

The governor today said he wants to treat the Senate majority proposal with respect, but he’s not wild about it.

Jim Justice

“The proposal our Senate president, Craig Blair, has on the table is basically a collage of everything, even to the point in time where we’re going to say we’re going to put 14 chickens in everyone’s pot. If you buy that you buy that,” said Justice, a Republican.

“I’m telling you without any question the very one thing in life that will drive more people in West Virginia, more people to the state of West Virginia, is the personal income tax reduction and the elimination of it.”

The governor said on “Talkline” that he’s concerned about the possible financial effects of the property tax proposal. In particular, he focused on how local governments rely on property taxes for public services. “Layering in another $500 million is very, very risky and very irresponsible in my opinion,” Justice said.

Eric Tarr

Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, objected to communication on the governor’s tax bill.

Leading up to this, he said, “The Senate presidents’ been trying to get ahold of the governor. They have each other’s cell phone so they normally would exchange conversation, and it’s not unusual for them to talk on that cell phone.

“For now, it’s probably been better than three weeks now, the governor has not taken a phone call, he’s not returned a text, except to send an intermediary back to say ‘I’m sick; I can’t take the call’ — but he can still do his covid show, he can still do the travel, still be at the Capitol, but he was too sick to take the Senate president’s phone call.”

Then, Tarr said on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio, the special session was called.

“The special session then comes in as this postage stamp-type call. It is the bill: You can do a 10 percent income tax cut; I’m calling you in to do that right now.”

That came after the Senate majority had been working on the property tax issue for months. Tarr called out Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy, who last week said the property tax proposal would “shipwreck” the state budget, along with Bray Cary, who has been one of the governor’s close advisers.

“Bray Cary gets back in town, we see his car all around and suddenly we’re back to the same old games again,” Tarr said on the Charleston radio show.

In advance of this week’s special session, on Sunday, the governor had a long meeting with Blair and then spoke with other members of the Senate majority caucus.

In a statement about those conversations, Justice said he never had any intention of avoiding talks with the senators.

“Gov. Justice has repeatedly and consistently mentioned publicly that he welcomes meaningful discussions with the Legislature regarding repealing the personal income tax and other ways to move West Virginia forward,” his statement said. “Any insinuation otherwise is incorrect.”

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