Coalition argues for tax changes 'that work'
By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette-Mail
Offering a counterpoint to the ongoing meetings of the legislative Joint Committee on Tax Reform, a coalition of education, faith, labor and community-based organizations called on legislators Tuesday to pursue tax changes that they said would benefit all West Virginians.
Declaring “you can’t cut your way to prosperity,” Rick Wilson of the American Friends Service Committee said, “We need a tax system that invests in things that work, like education, infrastructure and workforce development.”
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, noted that in 2008, the Legislature rolled back the corporate net tax and phased out the business franchise tax with the promise that the cuts would generate new economic growth that would offset the $225 million a year of lost tax revenue.
Boettner said the new jobs and businesses have not materialized, noting, “We currently have the highest unemployment rate in the country at 7.5 percent… Our roads are falling apart, and we are not making investments in other critical infrastructure like broadband.”
The coalition set five principles of fair taxation, saying that any new tax proposals:
| Should not jeopardize schools, roads, colleges, kids or seniors.
| Should include accountability measures to determine if tax cuts or credits are working.
| Should not increase taxes on low- and middle-income families who already pay a disproportionate share of taxes with the state’s “upside-down” tax structure.
| Should consider new and alternate sources of revenue to pay for urgent state needs for infrastructure, education, and human services.
| Should avoid changes that would short-circuit the democratic process and would weaken the state’s ability to meet its future needs. That includes proposals to require a super-majority vote in the Legislature to approve tax increases.
“History has shown us that tax cuts are not a cure-all,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, who said the state should be making investments in — and not cutting funding — for public schools, early childhood education, higher education and infrastructure.
“When that happens, we’ll see a strong, vibrant West Virginia,” he said.
Nearly two dozen groups have signed the Fair Taxation Principles to date, coalition organizers said.
Likely gubernatorial candidate and current Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, attended Tuesday’s announcement, and offered his support to the coalition.
“I think we need to start investing in our state and our infrastructure, instead of giving tax cuts at the top and hoping they pay off,” he said. “The solution is not to give more tax cuts to businesses that suck up that money and take it out of state.”