Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier

The end of the session can’t come soon enough! We will finish at 11:59 p.m. on April 10. Until then, expect a furious pace of controversial bills. Here’s an overview of this week’s bills.

PERSONAL INCOME TAX. Gov. Justice proposed reducing the personal income tax in half by raising the sales tax and various other taxes. House Republicans proposed reducing the personal income tax over the next 12 years by making cuts and not raising taxes. Now, Senate Republicans proposed this week eliminating the personal income tax by raising the sales tax to 8.5 percent, raising the hotel/motel tax, reinstating the food tax, taxing professional services, raising the tobacco tax, and allowing recreational marijuana. 

WILL IT PASS? With only 10 days remaining in session and major disagreements between these various unpopular income tax plans, I think it’s unlikely that income tax reform will happen right now. It’s possible, but it’s more likely that the differences remain unresolved and are then taken up at a later time.

BUDGET. (Last) week we saw the proposed budget for the first time. It contains cuts to WVU, Marshall, tourism, senior centers, substance abuse treatment, Communities in Schools, and a 1.5 percent across the board cut to all agencies. The governor’s budget did not include any of these cuts. Why the difference? Because House and Senate Republicans need every dollar they can get for their income tax proposals...which also raise taxes.

STATE FINANCES. It’s perplexing to me what legislative leaders are doing with our state finances. On the one hand, they are raising taxes. On the other hand, they are cutting the budget (colleges, tourism, senior citizens). Yet there’s still a budget deficit...because they’re spending money like there’s no tomorrow on personal income tax, charters, ESAs, and more.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. If the trends hold, you will see no less than four constitutional amendments on your next ballot in 2022 — one for personal property taxes, one for disabled veterans property taxes, one for the right to bear arms and one on term limits. They all passed the Senate (last) week and now must pass the House to be placed on the ballot. I voted in favor of placing them all on the ballot, because I think voters ought to have the choice. Below is an explanation of each one.

PERSONAL PROPERTY TAXES. Probably the most complicated of all, SJR7 (actually, the House version HJR3 is the one that will be voted upon) essentially asks you, the voters, if you want to allow the legislature to set all personal property tax rates including tax rates on your vehicles, business inventory and equipment, and all other tangible personal property. To be clear, it doesn’t automatically cut all these taxes; it just gives the legislature the freedom to cut them. Supporters say lower taxes is always a good thing. Opponents say this will blow a hole in county budgets which provide for schools, law enforcement, and the like.

DISABLED VETERANS. SJR 9 authorizes the legislature to exempt up to 100 percent of the real estate property taxes for 100 percent disbaled veterans. Personally, I think it should be for all veterans not just 100 percent disabled veterans, but I couldn’t get them to pass that.

RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. SJR1 adds language to the constitution saying that counties and cities cannot regulate firearms, ammunition, or accessories by local laws that are any more strict than state laws.

TERM LIMITS. SJR10 limits West Virginia Senators and Delegates to 12 consecutive years of service in the legislature. Someone could serve 12 years, take a break, and then return if the voters so choose. But everyone would be limited to 12 years at a time.

That’s the view from the back pew, where it is my privilege to serve you! 

Senator Stephen Baldwin is the minority leader and a local pastor. Reach him at 304-357-7959 or Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @BaldwinForWV.

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