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Senate passes its tax reform bill, House leaves its own on the table and Casey expresses budget hope

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Senate passes its tax reform bill, House leaves its own on the table and Casey expresses budget hope
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

The state Senate passed a version of tax reform today, the last day for bills to be passed out of their house of origin.

The House of Delegates still had a third-reading vote ahead on its own version of tax reform, but left the bill on the table without a vote. Today was the last day for bills to be passed out of their houses of origin.

The House will now use the Senate’s version to amend. The House’s own version had been viewed as a key component of its budget framework, and it reignited talks in recent days between House leadership and the governor.

Nick Casey, chief of staff for Gov. Jim Justice, said on “Talkline” that budget talks with GOP leadership in the House have continued to progress. Casey said he is feeling very optimistic that a deal with the House can be reached in short order.

The Senate's tax reform bill raises and broadens the consumption tax and reduces the income tax from five tiers to three, with the intention of phasing it out.

This was the third version of the bill to be introduced in the Senate this session. Each has scaled back some of the prior bill's ambition and complexity. Senator Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, has been the bills' main shepherd.

During debate on third reading today, Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso criticized the bill and its earlier incarnations.

Prezioso then made reference to the earlier reluctance by Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall to support the bill.

Hall was not one of the sponsors when the first version was introduced, even when most of his GOP colleagues in the Senate were. Hall also did not vote for the bill when it was passed out of Finance.

But when Hall stood to address the bill, he expressed confidence that its flaws could be worked out as it moves into its next phase in the House of Delegates.

The bill passed 22-12. Democrat Richard Ojeda voted in favor of it. Republican Patricia Rucker voted against it. Rucker had been an early sponsor but removed her sponsorship. She has expressed concern about how raising the sales tax would affect border counties.

Both the Senate and the House were considering tax reform bills today, crossover day.

The House's version, which was narrowly endured a challenge on first reading on Saturday, was also on third reading today with amendments pending. The House's bill includes some key components of a budget proposal laid out in House Finance.

The House bill has some cuts but not the extensive ones earlier described by Republican leadership. It does add somewhere around $170 million to the revenue mix by eliminating exemptions on a range of personal and professional services and reinstating the food tax at a 3 percent rate.

In recent days, Gov. Jim Justice has opened up discussions with Republicans in the House, after seeing increased openness to revenue solutions to the state's half-billion-dollar budget gap.

Appearing on "Talkline" with Hoppy Kercheval today, Justice administration chief of staff Nick Casey said discussions with House leadership have continued to go well and that a budget solution could be relatively near.

GOP leadership in the Senate so far has not played a clear role in negotiations with the governor. Casey was critical of the Senate's tax reform that passed today, saying it relies too much on an increased consumption tax to make way for reducing and eliminating he income tax.

But Casey said the Senate eventually will be looped in, and he singled out Hall for praise.