Governor sides with counties on opposing property tax amendment

Gov. Jim Justice took another step in publicly opposing a constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to change property tax rates, saying that would be a risk for local governments in tough economic times.

“What if doop happens?” the governor asked rhetorically, using his own word for when something is out of control with strong likelihood of a negative situation.

The governor’s position against the amendment has been solidifying in recent weeks, first as an expression of wariness and then in the form of criticism when asked to clarify his view and, today, as a statement he decided to make during a broad-ranging news briefing.

State lawmakers have long talked about having more flexibility, particularly with the property taxes businesses pay on equipment and inventory. Potential changes also could address the personal property taxes that people pay on vehicles.

Because it’s a constitutional issue, West Virginia voters have say-so on the matter through General Election ballots this fall. If that passes, any specific changes would be up to the Legislature.

This week, two associations representing elected county officials in West Virginia officially took a position against the proposed constitutional amendment.

The county organizations have been wary over how property tax cuts could affect local services like schools, ambulance services and libraries, but they had withheld a formal position until now.

Justice largely agreed with that concern today.

“In all honesty, our counties have an income stream that’s coming to them, and they manage their business and help with the schools, and the EMS and the fire departments, the police departments and everything else — and all of a sudden if that’s gone and we say ‘Oh, no problem; we’re going to take care of you, everything’s going to be good, Charleston’s going to take care of you.’

“And then what if — what if doop happens? Then you’re going to be right upside down all over the place because they’re not going to be able to help.”

Senate leaders have proposed providing enough funding to counties to make up for the property tax revenue and more. But the House of Delegates has not been as specific so far, and the governor has emphasized a personal income tax proposal instead, saying the state couldn’t afford to do both.

The governor today questioned who would most benefit from the property tax cuts.

“When we get rid of something like the machinery and inventory tax, who’s it going to help? Big companies. Big, big companies. And many of them are not even West Virginians. Many of them are out-of-state ownership,” he said.

“Now, with that being said, sure I want to do everything, but you can’t do it all. There’s no way. If we end up passing a machinery and inventory tax, there’s no way that you could ever do the personal income tax at the same time.”


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