MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Municipal League will wrap up its 53rd annual conference in Morgantown Friday and although the event included a variety of sessions, tax relief plans discussed by state lawmakers were a prominent part of conversations between municipal leaders.
Municipal League President and Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum said while state lawmakers remain in negotiations about at least two plans, municipal leaders have the opportunity to be very clear with lawmakers about what they expect.
“We have to make sure we’re in the discussion, not only just being communicated with, but in that discussion about that effects us positive or negatively,” Tatum said.
The legislature held a week-long special session last week. They were called in by Gov. Jim Justice on his plan to cut personal income taxes by an average of 10%. After five days, the House and Senate had not reached an agreement. The House approved the governor’s bill but the Senate approved its own resolution stressing it believes property taxes should be lowered first.
The Senate resolution said: “While committed to a plan for income tax relief, the Senate does not believe that reducing the average West Virginia taxpayer’s monthly income tax liability by $20 will be an economic driver nor provide meaningful relief to the taxpayer
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott said competition with Pennsylvania and Ohio over property taxes is a constant battle.
“I’ve never heard anyone say to me, ‘I would invest in West Virginia if the income tax was 10% lower,'” Elliott said. “What I do hear is, ‘I would invest in West Virginia if you guys could offer a 10 or 12 year tax abatement on a real estate investment like Ohio does.'”
Parkersburg Tom Joyce, the income Municipal League president, said lawmakers should be given credit for taking on such a monumental task. But, he said it will be the cities, towns and counties that will bear the fruit or the burden of the final legislative product.
“Whatever reductions they do, the (county taxes) backfill (contained in the Senate plan) needs to be permanent- that’s forever,” Joyce said. “You know, $500 million a year is a lot of money and $500 million a year forever, I can’t put my head around that.”
Joyce said he believes there are good intentions in the House and Senate.
“I know the folks that I know in the West Virginia Legislature and that I work with closely understand and take this seriously,” Joyce said. “Right now it seems like they’re far apart, but I’m confident there will be some resolution that provides tax relief for everyone in West Virginia.”
According to Tatum, now is the time to engage lawmakers as negotiations are underway. Tatum said their efforts will continue, but he wants voters to understand they also play an important role in the outcome of this debate.
“Perception is reality and if we’re in front of them as much as we should be, then it’s about accountability,” Tatum said. “I think not only the phone calls and emails, but we need to be in front of those people.”