Governor promises ‘biggest tax cut’ — but there’s also a big gap with Senate

Gov. Jim Justice says he has a big tax proposal to pitch in next week’s State of the State address.

Jim Justice

“Absolutely, we’ll be announcing the biggest tax cuts in the history of this state, hands down,” Justice said during a briefing today.

Here’s the catch: “And hopefully, you know, things will move right through the Legislature and we’ll be able to pass on those tax breaks and tax cuts to people to celebrate all the goodness that’s been happening in West Virginia.”

That part about moving right through the Legislature.

There are not just different tracks. Right now there are different railroads.

The governor and leaders in the House of Delegates and Senate — all Republicans — all say they want to pass tax breaks to citizens as state revenue rolls in hundreds of millions of dollars above estimate.

But it would be helpful if the governor and the two chambers were in agreement about the specifics. Based on recent comments by all parties, it appears the governor and House leaders are generally aligned. It’s not clear that the governor and Senate leaders are even speaking.

“I’ve had extensive conversations with the House. I think the House and myself are on the same page together,” Justice said in a briefing today. “We both believe we can get on a pathway of some day being able to eliminate our state income taxes.”

But the governor and the Senate are at arm’s length. Maybe more than an arm: “I stand ready to meet and work with the Senate.”

And a few breaths later, the governor commented, “At times people have a hard time being an adult and not being a child.” He didn’t specify who he meant. “If we can be real adults and have conversations that are meaningful and we don’t get bogged down with just needless stuff, childish stuff, the momentum is unbelievable right now.”

The challenged relationship with the Senate grew during a bitter split over a constitutional amendment that would have opened the door to personal property tax cuts. Senate leaders backed the amendment, but the governor said it would undercut local governments that depend on property tax revenue.

Eric Tarr

Senate Finance Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, several times recently has said lawmakers don’t need to defer to the governor on financial issues. Republicans will hold 31 of 34 seats in the Senate the next two years and 88 of 100 House seats.

Tarr said on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio last week that the Legislature’s Republican supermajorities don’t need to rely on the governor for financial framework.

“What happens going forward really sits in the lap of the Legislature. It’s not on the governor. We don’t need the governor to do whatever we want to do to make West Virginia what it should be for your grandkids and great grandkids at this point because the things that we do now really can change the quality of life for the generations that follow us,” Tarr, R-Putnam, said last week on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio.

Tarr, speaking last week on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” described a proposal to provide rebates for personal property taxes. A second aspect would aim for income tax cuts.

“I anticipate that bill will look like rebates on all the six categories of property that were contemplated for the personal property elimination,” Tarr said. “And the remainder of that, since the rebate plan is a bit cheaper than what we were doing with the elimination by about $90 million, is we’ll take that $90 million and add that to the 10 percent income tax reduction.

“I think we’ll see a comprehensive tax reform plan coming out.”

Justice today characterized the Senate’s position as a reaction to the defeat of Amendment Two.

“The Senate’s plan is basically just this: The people spoke. And they spoke as clearly as they could possibly speak on Amendment Two. And they said ‘We’re against it,'” Justice said. “And basically the Senate is just turning their nose up at the people and saying ‘We’re still going to do Amendment Two.’ I don’t see how you do that. I don’t see how you do that.

“We know exactly what their plan is, and we’re continuing to talk back and forth to try to come up with a plan that will result in a good result.”

Vernon Criss

Meanwhile, the new House Finance chairman wants to see what plan the governor puts forward.

“I’m waiting on what the governor and the administration have. They’re working on a plan so that next Wednesday night he can promote it. And I’m waiting to hear from them. I’m hoping it hits the targets that we’ve asked for in the past,” House Finance Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said on MetroNews “Talkline.”

In today’s briefing, the governor said all the leaders who could decide on a tax cut need to get into the same room and talk it out.

“All the players should come to the table,” the governor said, describing himself, Senate President Craig Blair, Finance Chairman Tarr, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, House Majority Leader Eric Householder and Criss, the new House Finance chairman.

“All of us should be in a room together, and we should absolutely discuss this rationally and not be wedded one way or another and come up with the very best result we should come up with for the people,” Justice said. “And I am dead ready.”

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