Gazette Mail editorial: Will Legislature, Justice be on the same web page? | Editorial

On Wednesday evening, Governor Jim Justice gave the best of his five State of the State addresses.

It wasn’t a high bar to set, but there was much less aimless ad libbing that permeated its four previous addresses. The judiciary set some policy goals for West Virginia and, on rare occasions, even provided some details on how he believes at least one thing – abolishing state income tax – can be achieved.

Apparently, talking to the public several times a week for over a year to gain information about the COVID-19 pandemic sharpened Justice’s communication and presentation skills. Before last March, the governor spent little time in the Capitol and was even less preoccupied with overseeing his own legislative agenda, with the exception of the Roads to Prosperity project.

That’s not to say that Wednesday night there weren’t a few puzzling moments, but they really were less than Justice of the State’s earlier addresses. And some were weird for reasons entirely different from the occasional bizarre twists and turns or rhetorical deviations.

In fact, one of the strangest moments of the speech was about politics and didn’t come from the governor.

Watching a livestream of the speech, it appeared that Justice received an anemic response from lawmakers when he mentioned abolishing the state income tax. Reporters in the room confirmed that the response was lukewarm.

This is strange because the GOP controlled legislation has made it clear that the abolition of income tax is their main topic for the 2021 session. The chances of achieving that goal are presumably high, with a majority in the House and Senate and a Republican governor wanting the same.

So why the lukewarm reception? Maybe not everyone agrees how to do this. The tax waiver will cost the state $ 2.1 billion in revenue, a little less than half of all the revenue the West Virginia government collects. Republican lawmakers know that cuts cannot be made up on their own, and the tax burden needs to be shifted, most likely by an increase in state sales tax – which will hit poorer families more than the richest in the state – when combined with others.

The judiciary mentioned an increase in sales tax and suggested, among other things, increasing the tobacco tax and levying a tax on sugary beverages. He suggested setting up another Rainy Day fund to help offset early budget constraints while income tax gradually expires.

It will be interesting to see if the legislative leadership is on the same side as the governor, who said his plan was negotiable. It is possible to argue about who gets the credit for what happens at some point. Not to mention the possibility that some Republican lawmakers, majority or not, might not totally agree with the idea.

Huge tax breaks or tax breaks, introduced as a prerequisite to attracting new residents and businesses, which led to economic growth, have proven disastrous elsewhere. A prime and recent example is the failed experiment in Kansas that destroyed that state’s finances, made massive cuts in vital services like education, and reintroduced the lowered taxes.

That reads a lot in a not enthusiastic pause of applause from a speech. But the speech is over and the legislature is now in earnest. Western Virgins will soon see where their elected officials really stand on the GOP’s priorities. These things are seldom as simple as they theoretically appear once the practical process of it all begins.

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