January tax collections ahead of estimates

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By Phil Kabler
The Charleston Gazette

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In January, for the first time in the 2013-14 budget year, state tax collections came in ahead of estimates, state officials said Monday.

Collections of $391.71 million were $8.42 million ahead of projections for the month, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said.

Most of that upturn was the result of timing, with $15 million of taxes due Dec. 31 being posted as January revenue, he said.

Total budget year revenue collections of nearly $2.3 billion are still running $73 million behind projections, and 1.1 percent below the same point in 2013, according to Muchow.

"We still have a negative revenue growth trend year-to-date overall," he said.

A month ago, tax collections were running $81.5 million below estimates for the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The two largest tax sources, personal income taxes and consumer sales taxes, are still lagging, falling a combined $75.8 million below estimates for the budget year, Muchow said.

"Everything else put together is pretty close to being on estimate," Muchow said of all other state taxes.

Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said Monday the January revenue figures show the state economy is improving -- but still isn't where it needs to be.

"It's probably a little bit better than what my thoughts were last month, but we still haven't turned the curve we keep hoping to turn," Kiss said.

Sales taxes for January came in at $130.3 million, $2.3 million below projections.

Because the January tax receipts are based on December retail sales, Muchow said that figure reflects a weak Christmas shopping season statewide and nationally.

"Christmas activity was a little on the disappointing side," he said. "I think that's reflected in these numbers -- sales were pretty flat."

A 2011 tax credit on hybrid or alternative-fuel vehicles continues to hurt collections of the personal income tax, Muchow said.

The credit -- which was repealed, effective last April 14 -- is expected, ultimately, to cost the state $100 million in income tax payments and continues to cost about $200,000 a month in lost revenue, he said.

There should be about $22 million of the tax credits that will carry over into this year, and Kiss said an unknown figure is how many taxpayers will take first-time alternative-fuel vehicle credits for cars they purchased in April 2013 when they file their 2013 state income tax returns between now and April 15.

Meanwhile, the third-largest tax source -- severance taxes -- came in right on estimate at $33.9 million, and is 28 percent higher than January 2013. Muchow said that's an indication of natural gas sales offsetting a downturn in coal production.

Kiss said the department is continuing to monitor revenue collections to determine if additional spending cuts will be needed before the budget year ends June 30.

"We're going to continue to monitor it, as we're doing for every month this year," he said.