Lawmakers compress preparation for special session to cut income tax

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – State lawmakers are preparing for special session scheduled to begin Monday at noon to consider a plan from Gov. Jim Justice to cut the personal income tax.

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, acknowledged the state can afford to do it, but he would have appreciated more details and time to prepare prior to the session.

Joe Statler

“We should have had more details before we started in this special session, those are my feelings,” Statler said. “With that said, I’m willing to go listen.”

Justice’s plan proposes cutting all five income brackets of the personal income tax. The lower brackets would receive the largest percentage cut. The first $10,000 a person earns would see a cut followed by corresponding cuts as the earnings grow.  The cuts would be retroactive to Jan. 1 and send $254 million back to state taxpayers. The $254 million cut is the maximum allowable under provisions of the American Rescue Plan. according to Gov. Justice.

Senator Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, said the consensus among voters is a fear other taxes will be increased if the income tax is cut.

“Raising a lot of other taxes in order to pay for this, and I think a lot folks are very concerned that is what we’re going to do is raise another tax in order to pay for this,” Martin said.

During the last legislative session the House of Delegates voted in favor of a similar proposal that did not make it through the senate. Delegate Statler said that is likely the starting point of negotiations between the two chambers.

“We had thoughts that it was probably not moving on the senate side when we moved it on the house side- it was coming late in the session and I’m not sure we’re in any different position today than we were then,” Statler said.

The Senate has prioritized cuts to the personal property tax, but Martin, also member of the Senate Finance Committee, said working families and people on fixed incomes need help.

Senator Patrick Martin

“I’m very much in support of lowering the income tax,” Martin said. “I feel like a lot of times we’re not helping out the working people of West Virginia. The income tax punishes people for working, so I’m all for lowering that tax.”

When lawmakers begin the special session Monday with a state revenue surplus of $1.308 billion and forecasts show continued positive expectations for revenue collections.

“I feel like right now we could afford a bigger cut than what he’s proposing,” Martin said. “I’d rather do 10-percent across the board, but I think we do have to take it small bits and just keep lowering the tax until we can phase it out.”

State income tax rates have not been changed since 1987.

Senate President Craig Blair and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr have invited Gov. Justice to the Senate’s GOP caucus scheduled for Sunday evening.

Lawmakers begin monthly interim committee meetings Sunday at the state capitol.