Budget Beat – May 22, 2015

Reverse the Curse

This week Ted traveled to Columbus, Ohio to take part in a legislative briefing as part of the Multi-Shale Research Collaborative. His presentation, titled “Reverse the Curse”, explored how states like Ohio can create permanent natural resource trust funds to ensure long-term benefits of shale drilling.

2015 Ohio Permanent Fund presentation cover

Welcome, Brooke!

This week we welcomed Brooke Bailey as our summer research associate. Brooke is a graduate student at WVU where she is pursuing her Master’s in Public Administration. This summer she will work on updating the WVCBP’s Guide to the State’s Budget, first published in 2008, and assist staff with several other projects. Welcome!

 Brooke Bailey photo

Budget Woes Hit Higher Education/Tax Committee Meets Again

For a great connecting of the dots on how years of tax cuts are now impacting West Virginia’s college students, listen to Sean’s interview this week on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

What will the legislature do to help lessen the impact of higher tuition, and the state’s reduced spending per student, especially on the state’s low-income families? For a recap on discussion in the week’s Tax Overhaul Committee meeting, check out Sean’s blog post.

Are West Virginians Moving to Florida to Avoid State Income Taxes?

One topic brought up by legislators seeking to overhaul the state’s tax system is eliminating the state’s personal income tax. Legislators have stated that West Virginia is losing population to no-income-tax states like Florida. A look at the numbers shows this just isn’t the case and should not be used as a reason to cut one of the state’s largest source of revenue. Read more in Ted’s blog post.

West Virginia Steals from the Poor and Gives to the Rich

West Virginia ranks among the highest in states with tax systems that undermine the federal tax code. The federal system is progressive since it taxes higher earners at a higher level, thus reducing income inequality. Unfortunately, West Virginia’s regressive state system undoes this leveling of the playing field by nearly 32%.

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Help Needed: Fighting Poverty in WV

Got an idea on how to fight poverty in West Virginia? Ready to get it passed through the state legislature with the help of the Our Children, Our Future Campaign? If so, it’s time to: 1) organize a team to come together around an issue, 2) form a concrete policy proposal, and 3) present that proposal to lawmakers and stakeholders at our 2015 Our Children, Our Future Policy of the People Symposium. Learn more here.

policy workshop logo

Summer Employment Opportunity

Located in the heart of Charleston, Our Vote, Our Future is a 501(c)4 non-profit that is the grassroots outreach campaign for Our Children, Our Future, WV. OVOF is part of a broad campaign to end childhood poverty state-wide and fights alongside children and families to win huge, lasting victories. In less than three years, OCOF has increased the minimum wage in West Virginia and restored hundreds of thousands of dollars to childhood advocacy programs.

Our Vote, Our Future is seeking highly motivated individuals with:

-A passion to make change
-A real commitment to being part of the solution
-Strong communication skills

Are West Virginians Moving to Florida Because of the Income Tax? Not Likely (Part II)

In the last post, I gave an overview of West Virginia’s personal income tax and how it is an important and progressive way to fund state investments in K-12 education, higher education, and other important public structures. In this post, I want to tackle misleading information surrounding the argument to cut or abolish state personal income taxes – the great tax migration myth.

You often hear that people move to no-income-tax states like Florida to avoid paying West Virginia’s personal income tax. While most of these arguments are anecdotal, if you look at interstate migration data and the academic studies for evidence of people “voting with their feet” to avoid paying state income taxes, the argument falls flat. In reality, people often move (or retire) to places like Florida because of the climate, lower housing costs (not the case in WV), better work opportunities or family reasons. 

tax migration reasons

Let’s look first at the data on out-migration in West Virginia. Between 1993 and 2011, approximately 322,357 households moved into West Virginia and 328,992 moved out. This means 98 percent of those leaving West Virginia were replaced by new people arriving from other states, ranking West Virginia near the middle in net-migration among all states.

BLOG migration CBPP

What about Florida? According to the Tax Foundation and IRS data,  approximately 22,009 people from Florida moved to West Virginia from 1993 to 2011 while 25,528  moved from West Virginia to Florida. This means for every 10 households that left West Virginia for Florida over this period, nearly nine (86.2%) were replaced by households moving into West Virginia from Florida. The fact that a substantial majority of people moving out of West Virginia to Florida were replaced by people moving in is a strong piece of evidence that Florida’s lack of an income tax is not a major driver of migration between the two states.

While the Tax Foundation data give the impression that the net migration income from West Virginia to Florida over this period was -$314 million (the people who left West Virginia for Florida took $925 million with them, while the people who came to West Virginia from Florida brought $611 million with them, for a net loss of $314 million ) in “lost income” to West Virginia that’s not entirely true. When most West Virginians move to Florida they don’t actually take their income with them. Instead it usually stays with their employers in West Virginia and is earned by other residents already in the state or by those who move in. While some forms of income – investment income, for example – may move with the individual, this only represents a small share of total income “lost.”

Even if you assume that all of the $314 million in income was lost in West Virginia, it would be a tiny fraction of total personal income taxes collected in the state over this period. For example, from 1993 to 2010 West Virginia collected about $21 billion in personal income taxes. Assuming that this income would be taxed at an effective rate of 6 percent (which is highly unlikely, see here), that means West Virginia lost about $19 million in income taxes or just 0.09% of the personal income taxes collected over this period.

Another hole in the tax migration myth is that over 70,000 more households moved from no-income-tax Florida to Georgia (which has an income tax) than moved the other way between 1993 and 2010. Also, a review of recent peer-reviewed academic studies and other reports by Michael Mazerov at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds the state and local taxes are not a big factor in interstate migration decisions. Of the 15 studies reviewed by Mazerov, only 3 of them (only 1 that was peer reviewed) found that high income taxes spur out-migration.

In the end, the argument that West Virginia is losing population to Florida or other no-income-tax states because they lack an income tax doesn’t hold up to the evidence and is no reason to make major cuts to the state’s personal income tax. Without the important revenue from the personal income tax to provide and maintain high-quality education, public safety, higher education and other vital services, highly skilled people (and the companies that employ them) could choose to leave West Virginia  in search for a better quality of life, endangering the state’s long-term economic growth. 

Tax Reform Committee Recap

Monday, the  Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform met again to continue the discussion of the proposed overhaul of West Virginia’s tax system. The committee heard from economists from WVU and Marshall University, as well as representatives from the conservative Tax Foundation, the Council on State Taxation, and the National Conference of State Legislatures. The experts gave the committee a broad range of general advice, though sometimes contradictory, while only giving a few specific tax reform ideas.

Dr. John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU, advised the committee that the state’s tax system should be simple, efficient, and fair, but noted that it was up to elected officials to decide what  fair means. While Deskins said that a consumption (sales) tax may be preferable to an income tax, since a consumption tax does not tax savings, he cautioned that completely eliminating the state’s income tax and replacing it with a sales tax would be too drastic.

Dr. Jennifer Shand, director of the Center for Business and Economics Research at Marshall University, noted that West Virginia has a pretty good tax system with rates that rank favorably against our neighbors. Both Deskins and Shand emphasized that tax policy is just one aspect of economic growth, and that tax reform wouldn’t likely be a silver bullet for the economy. Shand pointed to the Forbes Best States for Business Index, noting that while West Virginia ranks poorly overall, the state ranks well for business costs, including taxes, which we’ve previously discussed here

Both Joseph Henchman from the Tax Foundation and Mandy Rafool from the National Conference of State Legislatures talked about tax reform efforts in other states. Henchman’s presentation focused on how state tax reforms affected the state’s rankings on the Tax Foundation’s State Business Tax Climate Index. Unfortunately for the Select Committee, the Tax Foundation’s indexes don’t tell us anything about how those reforms affected those states’ economies, and both the State Business Climate Index and the Location Matters Index both completely fail to predict job, or any other economic, growth. Those, and other indexes like them, are simply arbitrary mish-mashes of data which are guided more by politics and ideology than by evidence.

Some of the advice given by the presenters was contradictory. While all of the presentations noted concern over the centralized nature of West Virginia’s tax system, with the most business taxes being levied by the state rather than local governments, recommendations from COST and the Tax Foundation included eliminating two significant sources of revenue for local governments – the B&O tax and the business personal property tax.

And while both COST and the Tax Foundation called for the elimination of the business personal property tax, doing so would narrow the property tax base, necessitating higher rates, and make our system less equitable while eliminating a stable source of revenue. And while it is taken as an article of faith by some, there is little evidence that the personal property tax is hurting the state’s economy, and none of the presenters to the committee offered any. And, in fact, no matter how you measure it, West Virginia’s property tax burden ranks from near the bottom to fairly reasonable.

The same is true of the other concrete recommendation made by both COST and the Tax Foundation, for West Virginia to repeal its throwout rule in favor a single sales factor formula for its corporate net income tax. Moving to a single sales formula would allow multistate corporations to pay income taxes based only on their sales to consumers in West Virginia, rather than shares of its property and payroll, as well as sales, located in the state. Again, despite claims that West Virginia’s formula is hurting the state economically, there’s little evidence that single sales factor states perform better. Instead, states that move to a single sales factor lose substantial revenue.

And while each presenter acknowledged that education, infrastructure and other state investments are important to businesses and economic growth, missing from the meeting was how any of the proposed tax reforms would affect the state’s ability to make those investments. As we’re all familiar with the last time West Virginia followed advice from the likes of the Tax Foundation, tax cuts blew a $360 million hole in the budget, leading to multiple years of budget cuts, a disinvestment in higher education, rising tuition, and a crumbling infrastructure

Budget Beat – May 15, 2015

While Other States Restoring Higher Education Funding, West Virginia Continues Cuts

The Great Recession was hard on state budgets with many legislators making the tough choice of cutting funding to higher education. With the recovery well underway, many states are restoring funding to their colleges and universities. This is not the case in West Virginia, which led the nation in 2015 by cutting per-student funding by 2.3 percent. Since 2008, West Virginia has cut higher education funding by over $2,000 per student. This has resulted in average tuition increasing by over 32 percent since 2008.

The hole in West Virginia’s budget was not as much caused by the Recession, however, as by the reduction of business taxes and elimination of the food tax, without replacing that lost revenue, causing West Virginia’s college students to pick up the tab.

Here’s more in this week’s Charleston Gazette and the State Journal.

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Why Gutting the Personal Income Tax Doesn’t Work

West Virginia policymakers need to look no further than Kansas and Maine if they want to know what happens when a state cuts its personal income tax. Such a large part of a state’s budget is important to maintain our schools, roads, police protection and higher education.

At nearly half of the state budget, cutting or eliminating West Virginia’s personal income tax would make it a challenge to maintain these vital services. For more, here is Ted’s blog post, a first in a series about the importance of West Virginia’s personal income tax.

State Biudget
Who Benefits from Tax Cuts?

Do income tax cuts create jobs? Not with small businesses. In fact, most tax payers are not in the position to create jobs, with or without a tax break. Read more here from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

cppp chart 5.12.15

 

Gutting the Personal Income is a Poor Strategy (Part I)

Last week, the newly created Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform held its second meeting to discuss overhauling the state’s tax system. While the meeting included an overview of the state’s current tax system and historical tax reform efforts of the past (e.g. Cecil Underwood’s Commission on Fair Taxation), committee members made it quite clear in April that they want to explore abolishing the state’s personal income tax, even though they now say “there’s no hidden agenda” and/or proposals they have in mind for 2016.

It is important to remember that during the 2015 Legislative Session several members of the uber-conservative  “Liberty Caucus” introduced a bill to abolish the personal income tax. The movement to abolish or rollback the personal income tax is not something unique to West Virginia. In fact, it is part of a well-organized conservative effort across the country that is being spearheaded by wealthy groups such as ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, and economists Stephen Moore and Arthur Laffer. So far, five states – Kansas, Maine, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin – have made major cuts to their personal income taxes on the advice of these groups and many more states have considered doing the same. As I pointed out in a recent op-ed in the Charleston Daily Mail, gutting the personal income tax is a poor strategy that would likely lead to growing budget deficits instead of a growing economy.

This post is the first a five-part series that aims to explore the ramifications of cutting or rolling back our state’s personal income tax. This will include a brief overview of the importance and structure of West Virginia’s personal income tax, along with responding to many of the erroneous arguments being put forth to abolish the tax – including out-migration, economic growth, and small business development. The series will end with a number of policy alternatives that would modernize and strengthen our state’s personal income tax so we can invest in West Virginia’s economy.

Brief Overview of West Virginia’s Personal Income Tax

West Virginia’s personal income tax  was established in 1961 and applies to most types of money income, including wages and salaries, interest, rental income, capital gains, and some business and pension income. West Virginia is one of 43 states that has a personal income tax and like 29 other states, it links to the federal definition of adjusted gross income (AGI) to define its tax base. West Virginia, like many states, also has a number of deductions, exemptions, and credits that lower the income subject to the tax. According to the latest Tax Expenditure Report from the WV State Tax Department, the state lost an estimated $242 million in forgone revenue from these expenditures in 2014. 

personal income tax expenditures

Similar to 33 states, West Virginia also has a progressive or graduated rate structure, with the income tax rates growing with income (see table below). This means that unlike the sales tax that hits low-income families the hardest, higher income residents pay a larger of their income in personal income taxes compared to low- and middle-income residents. The personal income tax also reduces the overall regressive nature of West Virginia’s state and local tax system. 

Who Pays sales income

West Virginia’s marginal personal income tax rates have changed dramatically through the years. Throughout the 1960s, the top marginal tax rate was 5.5 percent. From 1971 to 1982, the top rate grew to 9.6 percent, and from 1983 to 1986 it was 13 percent.

WVPITMTR

Since West Virginia’s marginal tax rates and income brackets have remained unchanged since the 1987, this means a lot more people are climbing into the higher income tax brackets. For example, in 1987 only four percent of families in the state had income (not to be confused with taxable income) above $60,000, compared to almost 40 percent in 2014. 

bracket and families

While the state’s top marginal rate is 6.5 percent (see table below), no one pays 6.5 percent of their taxable income in state income taxes. This is because they are only paying the higher rate on any income above each threshold, not on everything.

For example, suppose a family in West Virginia has $65,000 in taxable West Virginia income (this would be after any exemptions, deductions or credits) in 2014. They would pay three percent on the first $10,000, four percent on $15,000 ($25,000-$10,000), 4.5 percent on the next $15,000 ($40,000-$25,000), six percent on their next $20,000 ($60,000-$40,000), and 6.5 percent on the remaining $5,000. Note that even though this family is at the 6.5 percent tax bracket it does not owe 6.5 percent of its income but instead a maximum of 4.7 percent.

 brackets

Now that we have a good understanding of how the state’s personal income tax works, let’s look at what it pays for in West Virginia.The personal income tax is West Virginia’s second largest source of revenue outside of federal funds. It makes up 43 percent or $1.9 billion of the state’s $4.3 billion General Revenue Fund budget that funds public education, public safety, higher education, health and human services and many other important programs and services.

State Biudget

About $95.4 million in personal income tax revenue pays for the Old Workers’ Compensation Debt (which will be fully paid off by 2016) and a couple of years ago the legislature decided to dedicate $35 million of the $90 million to fund the liability in retiree health care (a.k.a. OPEB). The personal income tax is also a growing share of the budget, growing from 35 percent in 2002 to a projected 44 percent by 2020. 

 PIT History

As this post shows, the personal income tax is not only the largest source of revenue from state residents but it is also a progressive tax that helps reduce income inequality and pay for important budget priorities like education, higher education and health and human services. In the next post, we will explore whether the personal income tax leads people to flee West Virginia for states without a personal income tax. As we shall see, the idea that the personal income tax leads to out-migration of state residents and businesses is largely a myth.

Budget Beat – May 8, 2015

Second Meeting Held to Look at Tax Overhaul

The history of West Virginia’s previous efforts to overhaul its tax system and an overview of tax breaks going back over 100 years were on Monday’s agenda of the Joint Select Committee of Tax Reform. Speakers included Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss and Deputy Secretary Mark Muchow at the day-long meeting. Links to materials from the meeting are available here where you can also send comments to the Committee.

The next meeting is May 18 where the Committee will hear from the conservative Tax Foundation as well as the National Conference of State Legislatures.

It’s too early to say what the Committee’s recommendations will be but we can look at ALEC-influenced policies in other states like Kansas to get an idea. More on this week’s discussion and the budget disasters taking place in Kansas here. For an overview, read Monday’s editorial in the Charleston Gazette here. Here’s a small piece of it: “If total revenue is lowered, the tax-cutters must spell out exactly what state services will be reduced: Will West Virginia have fewer state troopers, or mine inspectors, or highway workers, or schoolteachers, or college professors, or food inspectors, etc.?”

Let’s Support West Virginia Working Moms This Mother’s Day

Working moms often struggle to make ends meet. Many get a boost through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), providing them more resources to support their families and pay for expenses like day care.

The federal EITC is a tax credit for low- and moderate-income working families and individuals. The CTC provides a tax credit of up to $1,000 for each eligible child to low- to upper-middle income working families.

Key provisions of the federal EITC and the CTC are set to expire at the end of 2017. More than 16 million people in low- and modest-income working families, including 8 million children, would fall into – or deeper into – poverty in 2018 if Congress doesn’t make the provisions permanent.

Give working mothers a gift this Mother’s Day by calling your representatives in Congress asking them to protect these important programs.

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WV American Water Wants to Raise Our Rates, Again

A month ago, WV American Water said that costs associated with the Freedom Industries spill would be included in their next rate hike. Since then, citizens have been organizing to tell WV American Water: “We Won’t Pay for Your Mistakes!”

Last week, WV American Water announced that they had changed their mind: costs associated with the Freedom spill are not included in their rate increase.

But, WV American Water has not given up on making us pay for their problem. In fact, they said that they will be seeking a separate, additional rate increase at a later date to recover the costs from the water crisis. Not only have they not fixed our water system, they want us to pay for their mistakes!

Join Advocates for a Safe Water System on Sunday, May 17 to tell WV American Water that we won’t pay for their mistakes. Meeting at 2 PM at their water treatment plant (corner of Smith and Court St.). More than 190 people have signed up — add your name here.

Work-Life Balance Training and Discussion

This presentation, borrowed from the Rockwood Leadership Institute, will explore the question of work-life balance from a variety of viewpoints and tools – a survey about workload, frameworks for thinking about your workload, strategies for achieving “balance,” an opportunity to reflect on your own experiences, etc.

  • Work-Life Balance Training and Discussion
  • Friday, May 15 @ 3:30-5:00pm
  • YWCA, 3rd Floor * 1114 Quarrier St * Charleston, WV
  • This month’s trainer: Stephen Smith

Please email ourchildrenourfuturewv@gmail.com to RSVP. Please include your name, phone, address, and the number of people you will bring.

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Budget Beat – May 1, 2015

Price of Higher Education About to Go Up?

West Virginia families sending their kids to in-state colleges and universities could take another hit according to today’s Charleston Gazette. West Virginia University is considering a nearly 10 percent increase in tuition which has already increased 29 percent over the past five years. Last week, West Virginia State University announced a seven percent increase, and officials at Marshall University are trying to figure out the best way to fund for their budget gap without passing the costs along to students.

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Higher-education administrators are faced with tough choices due to shrinking state funding. State leaders decided that tax giveaways to businesses took priority over maintaining funding for higher education, and now West Virginia families and students are paying the price.

This is something to keep in mind as legislators meet on Monday, May 4 to consider more ways to overhaul the state’s tax system. What will their priorities be? You can listen in to the discussion here by clicking House Government Org. Here’s the committee’s agenda.

West Virginia Has One of the Lowest Property Tax Burdens in the U.S.

While West Virginia students are paying more to get their degrees, state businesses could get another break if legislators decide to lower their property taxes. Businesses in West Virginia already pay property taxes at a rate less than the national average. Take a look at the pie chart below to see who would pick up the slack if businesses get a break on their taxes.

pie
Much more in Sean’s blog post about West Virginia’s current system which provides equal treatment of all property, and the probable motivation behind a possible overhaul.

Try This Conference Registration Goes Up Tomorrow

Start your summer off with the Try This Conference in Buckhannon, June 5-6. Enjoy two idea-packed, inspiring days with like-minded West Virginians! Registration goes up by $50 tomorrow so register today!

What’s the Real Reason for Eliminating Business Personal Property Taxes?

Next week the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform will meet again to continue the discussion on overhauling the state’s tax system. When they last met, the Committee sent strong signals that more business tax cuts would be the top priority, despite their recent failure to create jobs in West Virginia and the subsequent budget deficits that they created.

While West Virginia’s last stab at tax reform saw cuts to the Corporate Net Income Tax and the elimination of the Business Franchise Tax, one tax was left untouched – the business personal property tax.

The business personal property tax has long been decried as a job killer, of course without any evidence. Each tax reform proposal since Governor Underwood’s in 1999 (back in 1999 it wasn’t quite a job-killer yet, instead it was described as having a “very strong negative effect on business,”) have tried to eliminate it, but these past attempts have died, all failing to address the thorny issue of how to pay for it, although the recent Manufacturing Property Tax Adjustment Credit allows manufacturers to deduct their property taxes from their corporate income taxes. In 2014, property taxes on commercial and industrial personal property totaled $304.5 million, a sizable chunk of the state’s property tax base.

pie

Flat-out eliminating 1/5th of our property tax base would be incredibly fiscally irresponsible, despite the rhetoric around it. But there is one way we can look at “reforming” this tax.

The big argument against the business personal property tax is that it is a job-killing tax that most other states don’t have, putting West Virginia at a disadvantage. While that argument doesn’t hold much weight, let’s entertain it for the purposes of this blog post. The funny thing about that argument is that it has almost nothing to do with the burden of the business personal property tax, just its existence. How so? West Virginia has one of the lowest property tax burdens in the country, almost no matter how you measure it.

rankingtable

Only in 1 of the above 8 different measures, the tax rate on an industrial facility in an urban area, does West Virginia’s property tax burden rank above the national average, and even then by only a few fractions of a percentage point.

So if West Virginia’s property taxes are low, yet the business personal property tax creates a disadvantage, that implies that West Virginia’s businesses wouldn’t mind paying more in real estate taxes in order to get rid of their personal property taxes. After all, nearly every state that doesn’t have a personal property tax has higher overall property taxes, meaning those states have higher real estate taxes, like in Ohio.

So if West Virginia got rid of its business personal property tax and replaced it with a higher tax on business real estate, the state would be getting rid of a so -called “job-killer,” would look more like other states, and wouldn’t be increasing the overall property tax burden. Sounds like a good idea, right? Well here’s what it would look like.

As I mentioned above, the property tax on business personal property produces about $304 million in revenue, while the property tax on business real estate produces about $485 million. So if we were to get rid of the business personal property tax and replace it with business real estate taxes, we would need a total of $798 million from business real property ($485 million + $304 million). In other words, the property tax in business real property would have to increase by 62.8%.

What would that look like for the typical business in West Virginia? Well, it depends. This study from the Lincoln Land Institute uses different fixed value property examples to compare property tax burdens. Using those examples, we can show how such a change would look for different types of businesses in West Virginia. In the table below is the property tax bill for two businesses in West Virginia: a commercial business with $1 million in real property and $200,000 in personal property, and an industrial business with $1 million in real property and $1 million in personal property.

actual

Under West Virginia’s current tax structure, both businesses pay the same overall tax rate, with the commercial business paying $19,712 on $1.2 million of property, or 1.64%, and the industrial business paying $32,854 on $2 million of property, again 1.64%. Both real and personal property is taxed at the same rate for both business, and the amount of tax paid is directly related to the total value of the property.

Now here is the property tax bill for the same two businesses, except with personal property exempted, and the tax on real property increased by 62.8%, offsetting the statewide loss of the personal property.

hypothetical

Now both businesses no longer pay the same effective rate. The commercial business pays $26,745 on their $1.2 million worth of property, for an effective rate of 2.23%, while the industrial business pays an effective rate of only 1.34%. Getting rid of the personal property tax and relying on real estate taxes favors the business with a greater percentage of its property as personal.

So where as before, West Virginia had a broad property base, with low and equal rates, that resulted in tax burden directly proportional to a business’s property value, the state would instead have a narrower property tax base, with unequal rates, and a burden more influenced by what type of property a business owned, rather than its value.

What’s the point of this exercise? I don’t really expect the state to exempt business personal property and shift the tax burden onto business real property, but that’s kind of what the rhetoric around “tax reform” seems to imply. But does anyone really think that a hypothetical tax system with unequal rates and higher taxes on commercial businesses is really better for creating jobs and economic growth? However, it’s the unspoken assumption behind the campaign against the business personal property tax.

The fact is, those who don’t like the business personal property tax simply don’t like paying it. It has little to do with jobs or economic development, or else there would be some evidence of its negative impact after all these years. West Virginia has a property tax system characterized by its broad base, low rates, and equal treatment of all property. Those who advocate for eliminating the tax on business personal property are in effect calling for its base to be narrowed, its rates to be higher, and its treatment unequal, all so they can pay less while others pay more.

Budget Beat – April 24, 2015

Tax Reform Continues to Make Headlines

On May 4, the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform will hold its second meeting to look at how to “update” the state’s tax system. So far committee members have floated around some hefty suggestions, like eliminating the Personal Income Tax and further reducing business taxes. Suggestions for how to replace that lost revenue and pay for these cuts have been less in the news.

Ted’s opeds in the Charleston Daily Mail and the Sunday Gazette-Mail both explain why the legislature should move with caution before slashing anything else from the state budget, the state Personal Income Tax in particular. As he states, here are some other avenues that tax reform could take:

  • Raising tobacco and alcohol taxes to improve the health of West Virginians and reduce state medical expenses.
  • Updating the Personal Income Tax by reducing taxes on the middle class and increasing them on higher income people, who have gained the most economically since the end of the recession while middle-class wages have stagnated or declined for most workers.
  • Modernizing the sales tax to reflect the changes in our economy from consuming goods to purchasing services.
  • Closing offshore corporate income tax loopholes.
  • Closely scrutinizing and scaling back business tax subsidies.

Tax Incentives? What Tax Incentives?

Here’s something to chew on from a North Carolina study: according to Economic Development Quarterly, “contrary to the belief among many economic development practitioners that tax credits are a motivating factor for firms to engage in economic development, only 30% of executives in incented companies were aware that their company had received a state economic development tax credit.”

Time for a West Virginia EITC

Tax time is hard for all of us, especially low-income working families. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides tax relief to those families, helps them keep money in their pockets, and, in turn, boosts the local economy. Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia also have their own EITC which gives those same families relief from state taxes as well.

West Virginia has over 180,000 people living in poverty. That’s more than the populations of Charleston, Huntington, Parkersburg, Wheeling and Beckley combined.

It is time for a state EITC in West Virginia to help those families.

This would help reduce the current inequity in the state’s tax system where those who earn less than $16,000/year pay an average of 8.7% of their income in state and local taxes, while those earning above $306,000 pay only 6.5%.

For more on why West Virginia needs a state EITC, check out Sean’s blog post.

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Budget Cuts Hitting Home

Tax cuts are already causing harmful budget cuts, another example of which hit the news today with an announced tuition hike at West Virginia State University. College students are paying the price for years of budget cuts as tuition increases create a greater burden on their families’ budgets.
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Happy Earth Week!

Budget Beat – April 17, 2015

Legislature Gives Glimpse Into its Ideas for Tax Reform

Tax Reform Committee Holds First Meeting

It’s been a taxing week, so to speak, between April 15 and the first meeting of the Joint Senate Select Committee on Tax Reform on Monday.

The meeting was the public’s first chance to get a glimpse into the new Republican leadership’s ideas of how to reform the state’s tax code. There was a lot of discussion about further tax cuts, or even the elimination of the Personal Income Tax.

The Personal Income Tax makes up a large percentage of the state’s $4 billion+ budget, about 40% of revenue in 2016. Eliminating it would leave a huge hole in the state’s ability to pay for important expenses like highway maintenance and funding for higher education.

One suggestion from the legislature on how to fill that hole is to increase the state’s sales tax, including establishing a tax on personal services from accountants and lawyers to hair stylists.

While this would create much-needed revenue, it would further shift the state’s tax burden onto those least likely to afford it. Poor people pay a larger share of their income toward sales tax than the wealthy, thus further shifting the overall tax base onto low-income families.

For a great look at the history of tax reform in West Virginia, and its dismal impact on creating jobs, check out Sean’s blog post.

For more on Monday’s Tax Reform Committee meeting, read this week’s Charleston Gazette and State Journal, or listen in to West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

For more, here’s Sean’s presentation from this week’s National Association of Social Workers, WV Spring Conference.

 2015 NASW OLeary presentation

Suggestions Made and Caution Urged

There was widespread reaction to the reforms suggested by the Tax Reform Committee. Governor Tomblin asked legislators to be “fiscally responsible” and the WVCBP suggested proceeding with caution, while using this opportunity to make the tax system more fair to working families.

Time to Modernize West Virginia’s Excess Acreage Tax

An idea considered by Governor Underwood’s Commission on Fair Taxation would have increased and overhauled the Excess Acreage Tax. This could incentivize economic development in West Virginia, particularly in the southern part of the state. More details in Ted’s blog post.

Dear White People at WV International Film Festival

The West Virginia Film Festival kicks off tonight at the LaBelle Theater in South Charleston with lots of great films. Come out and watch Dear White People on Tuesday, April 21 at 6PM to be followed by discussion on racial equity with participants of the Race Matters in WV project.

Dear White People

Become a Mentor to Someone in Need

Help KISRA (the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action) provide a second chance for someone in need by joining its mentor program. KISRA’s second chance mentoring program is designed to help non-violent offenders reclaim their place in the community, stabilize their lives and achieve self-sufficiency. Apply here.