In his State of the State Address Wednesday night, Governor Jim Justice (D-W.V.) proposed the largest tax hike in state history, increasing the sales and gas tax and creating a new Commercial Activities Tax. These proposals stand in stark contrast to his rhetoric on the campaign trail, where he spent nearly all of 2016 promising he would not raise taxes.
To suggest that Justice lied his way into office would be quite the understatement.
The state faces a $500 million overspending problem in the 2018 fiscal year, according to an estimate from the governor’s office.
His proposal to raise the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent, when combined with a local average of an additional .2 percent would bring the West Virginia average total local sales tax to the second highest in the region, ahead of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. This regressive tax increase would incentivize even more online and cross-border retail sales, a loss for small businesses that rely on competitive tax rates to keep residents in state for retail purchases.
The proposal also included eliminating the sales tax exemption for advertising and an undisclosed list of sales exemption eliminations for services, a proposal that was defeated 92-2 in 2016 by the House. If passed, this base expansion and sales tax rate hike would constitute more than $180 million in annual tax hikes.
The governor also proposed a 10 cent per gallon gas tax hike, which would bring the state gas tax burden from 33.2 cents per gallon to 43.2 cents per gallon, making it the second highest taxed in the region, behind only Pennsylvania. On top of the 18.4 cents federal excise tax, the total tax burden for a gallon of gas would rise to an astounding 61.6 cents per gallon. Such an increase would incentivize truckers and travelers to skip over the Mountain State when fueling up, on top of imposing a regressive hike on low and middle-income commuters who live in state.
The final significant tax hike proposed by Justice included the creation of a new gross receipts tax of .2 percent, representing a $214 million annual tax hike. This tax hike imposed on a business regardless of profits represents a massive step backwards in tax policy as it has long been recognized that these taxes are inefficient and cripple growth. That’s precisely why most states have eliminated these taxes, which were more popular a century ago.
One year after neighboring Kentucky imposed gross receipts tax in 2005 it was repealed when lawmakers realized the grave mistake they had made in disadvantaging some companies over others while damaging new businesses and depressing new investment. Is this Gov. Justice’s goal? To replicate the failure of Kentucky’s misguided tax that discouraged investment? Read more from the Tax Foundation here.
Additional tax and fee increases include:
- Increase in DMV license fee from $30 to $50;
- Increase in beer tax;
- Increase in wholesale markup on liquor;
In total, Justice is proposing $450 million in tax and fee hikes while suggesting a spending cut of merely $26.6 million, which constitutes a rounding error in the context of this massive proposal to increase the burden of government on West Virginia taxpayers.
Instead of taking a step back towards unworkable tax policies of the Great Depression, the legislature to embrace 21st century tax reform that has inspired growth in states like North Carolina. Broadening the base, lowering corporate, sales, and income tax rates can all be accomplished without imposing unaffordable tax hikes on Mountain State residents. The legislature would be wise to reject all of Jim Justice’s tax hikes and take him at his word throughout his 2016 campaign that West Virginians “are hurting enough. We don’t need to increase taxes.”
The state must focus on spending restraint and reforming the tax code to inspire, not inhibit economic growth.