MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice continued his statewide tour against a proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution with stops Wednesday in Martinsburg and Charles Town.
Justice has held multiple events in recent weeks opposing Amendment Two, a ballot measure allowing the state Legislature to make changes to property taxes, such as exempting machinery and vehicles from taxes.
Justice — who previously advocated for cutting the business inventory and machinery tax — has joined local leaders in opposing Amendment Two; the West Virginia Association of Counties and the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia have shared concerns about the Legislature’s possible decisions impacting local finances.
“It is a big, big, big drain on our government and basically putting all of your eggs in Charleston’s basket and hope that they come back,” he said during the Martinsburg event. “If they don’t, your policemen, your EMS, your firemen, your schools, lots of lots of things can happen.”
The governor’s opposition also stems from his desire to reduce personal income taxes. Justice called lawmakers into a special session during the summer for legislators to consider income tax changes.
Justice contended property tax changes would not benefit West Virginians, but rather corporations. He noted the state has been able to attract businesses to West Virginia with the business inventory and machinery tax in place, mentioning the arrival of Nucor Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary BHE Renewables through offering financial incentives.
“We craft things together so we can attract them and they’ll come,” he said. “Why in the world do we need to give Nucor more money and not give you a tax break? Why do we need to do that?”
Republican legislators have pushed back against Justice’s opposition. Lawmakers have appeared at events after Justice rejected a call from Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and Finance Committee Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, to attend these forums.
“Sir, with all due respect, when you look at a 10% reduction in personal income tax, to the average West Virginian, that’s about $9 a person,” Delegate Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley, told Justice during the Martinsburg event.
“No, that’s not true,” Justice responded.
“Yes, it is, sir,” Barrett said.
“No, it’s not. That’s a Tarr number,” Justice said. “That’s a Tarr fabrication. Ask our secretary of revenue [Dave Hardy].”
Tarr attended a similar event on Tuesday in Parkersburg. The senator stated on Wednesday’s “MetroNews Talkline” he received an invitation from the governor’s office to participate in the forum. According to Tarr, Justice denied inviting Tarr and other lawmakers to the Parkersburg event, but Tarr was allowed to speak against the proposed amendment.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to actually eliminate the car tax,” Tarr said. “We can’t do it without passing Amendment Two. Without passing Amendment Two, the car tax is here to stay. Same thing with machine, business and inventory.”
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the West Virginia Manufacturers Association support the proposed amendment.
Delegate John Hardy, R-Berkeley, pressed Justice about eliminating the vehicle tax if voters reject Amendment Two.
“I think at a minimum, we owe that to the people of West Virginia,” he said.
Justice said he would be willing to call the state Legislature into session to eliminate the vehicle tax if necessary.
“I’ll even call you back into special session tomorrow,” the governor told Hardy.
Amendment Two is one of four proposed amendments on this fall’s ballot. West Virginia’s early voting period begins Oct. 26, and Election Day is Nov. 8.
MetroNews’ Marsha Chwalik, Jeff Jenkins and Alex Thomas contributed to this report.