Because West Virginia has deep and perplexing issues that have been allowed to fester for years and now need all hands on deck if we are to turn this ship of state against winds of misfortune, because tax revenues are struggling to meet budget projections and because a fix for the mightier of those problems will take a hefty dose of those precious state dollars, we would urge legislators to tap the brakes on two costly and, at this time, wholly unnecessary initiatives.
Lawmakers, especially those in the Republican caucus, have been intent on “improving the business climate” in the state – their mantra – stated at most every tax cutting turn these past several years. Surprising to no one, they are using the same language this session while targeting an income tax on manufacturing equipment, machinery and inventory, and in an effort to set up an intermediate state appeals court. The inventory tax break, alone, would sap an estimated $100 million a year from public school systems and county governments. Another layer of courts? The fiscal note attached to that bill says $12 million, but other estimates are as high as $20 million.
Last time we checked in with our local schools and county governments, they were not exactly swimming in resources.
County commissioners across the state, especially those reliant on coal severance taxes in southern West Virginia, are having a heck of a time paying their regional jail bills. All point to the opioid drug crisis as Public Enemy No. 1 and yet there are not nearly enough licensed professionals, facilities and beds to provide what we know works – long-term medical treatment.
Likewise, our schools aren’t exactly putting up honor roll grades in student performance and preparedness for life after graduation. Too many high school kids holding diplomas are poorly equipped for the rigors of college – academically or financially. On average across the state, about a third of West Virginia freshmen have to take remedial courses in math and reading – some both – once they step foot on campus.
And, yes, we still need additional resources for more counselors, teachers and nurses in schools to help students find a way forward. Many of the children are profoundly affected by the trauma of daily life in a place where despair is, if not constant company, an unwelcome and unruly neighbor knocking on the door.
Focusing on academic achievement is way down the list of a kid whose life outside of school is turned upside down by neglect, abuse and abandonment.
That $100 million a year would put a dent in some of that, we think.
Likewise, with the millions being considered for the intermediate court of appeals.
There may have been a time when such a court was needed in this state, but with a declining state population, the court caseload is down, too. In 2018, according to the annual statistical report on circuit, family and magistrate, there were 43,285 cases filed, an almost 7 percent decrease from 2017 across the state’s 31 judicial circuits.
Yes, 41 of 50 states in the U.S. have such a court. Those that do not, like West Virginia, are among the least populated.
While there may be good hypothetical arguments behind nixing the inventory tax and adding an intermediate appeals court, their importance compares poorly to other real human needs in the state where resources are in short supply.
We haven’t even addressed in this writing how the state is badly failing one of the most vulnerable populations among us – the 7,000 foster children in state care. And yet we all know that the people charged with looking after those kids from Child and Protective Services are overburdened, underpaid and inadequately staffed.
Our elected political leaders in Charleston need to come to grips with the priorities of the great majority of people out here in the real world. Before they work to improve the business climate of the state by investing in the hardware of a business inventory tax and another layer of judicial bureaucracy, they should legislate to improve human capital.
You know, real people in real places with real needs.
— The Register-Herald