Conference committee meeting to discuss revenue bill
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Differences over a revenue bill meant to be a key component of a state budget for the coming fiscal year are now to be worked out in conference committee.
After days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, the state Senate appointed a conference committee consisting of Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and senators Craig Blair, Ed Gaunch, both Republicans, and Glenn Jeffries, a Democrat.
The Senate appointed its conferees during a 10 a.m. floor session. Neither Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall nor Senator Robert Karnes, who led the Select Committee on Tax Reform, was named to the conference committee.
At the House floor session, which wound up starting at 2:30, the committee named included Finance Chairman Eric Nelson and delegates Paul Espinosa, Carol Miller, Republicans, and Brent Boggs and Dave Pethtel, Democrats.
The committee met for about an hour Wednesday afternoon, agreeing to do the heavy lifting starting at 9 a.m. Thursday. Nelson says there should be a strike-and-insert amendment and some fiscal estimates to view by tomorrow morning.
Differences over the revenue bill appeared to be headed to conference committee two weeks ago, after the House refused to concur on a revenue bill passed by the Senate. But at the time, Gov. Jim Justice said he would like the time to negotiate with the leaders of the Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans and House Democrats.
After several rounds of meetings with the groups, Justice proposed a compromise revenue bill that would raise the state sales tax to 6.35 percent and reduce the personal income tax by an average 7 percent reduction the first year, and triggered reductions of a 7 percent average the second year and 6 percent the third year.
Since the special session resumed this week, legislative leaders have been negotiating behind the scenes to try to reach clearer consensus on a revenue proposal. One of the changes out of that included changing the sales tax to 6.5 percent, a number cash registers can handle.
“I really think for the first time in the last couple of days we have come closer than ever to having something that all four groups can live with. No one’s completely happy, but we’re getting to the point where everyone’s giving something, everyone’s getting something, maybe we can all live with this and go home,” Senate Majority Leader Ferns said.
The conference committee is a way to shape a few remaining details of the agreement, in particular the triggers that would determine how and when the personal income tax could be reduced, Ferns said.
“The one major sticking point that we didn’t feel like we could sort out in that rather large group was triggers — various numbers of triggers,” said Ferns, R-Ohio.