W.Va. Senate Democrats block wide-ranging GOP tax overhaul

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Charleston, applauds opening remarks during day of the state legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Charleston, W.Va. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a sweeping Republican tax overhaul that was expected to slash county budgets.

Democrats voted to reject the plan, which required a two-thirds majority to change the state Constitution and would have cut taxes on manufacturers and personal vehicles while raising sales taxes and taxes on tobacco products.

“We do not have a good track record in providing for our people with the promise of tax cuts for big businesses,” said Sen. Richard Lindsay, a Kanawha County Democrat. “Our focus should be on the people, on investing in West Virginians.”

County commissioners have opposed the tax overhaul and said it could cause them to lose millions of dollars of tax revenues, raising fears about cuts to local law enforcement and courts. Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, has said it was “too big and too fast a change.”

The GOP proposal was broken up into two pieces of legislation. One part is a bill that contains details about the tax overhaul. The other is a resolution to amend the state Constitution to allow property tax rates to be changed, sending the plan into motion.

Lawmakers on Monday voted along party lines to pass the bill, which would have phased out a tax on manufacturing equipment and cut a tax on personal vehicles, while raising sales tax and increasing taxes on tobacco to make up for any losses.

The chamber then took up the resolution Tuesday. Republicans argued that voters should be able to decide their tax rates. Democrats said the plan would have left a $100 million hole even after the tax increases and that the state is already projecting big budget gaps over the next several years. It eventually failed on a 18-16 vote, falling short of the two-thirds majority required for changes to the state Constitution.

“This is a bill to help families of West Virginia, make no mistake about it. It’s also a bill to bring jobs to West Virginia,” said Sen. Eric Tarr, a Putnam County Republican.

Sen. Craig Blair, the lead sponsor of the proposal, acknowledged during hourslong debates on both Monday and Tuesday that his plan likely wouldn’t clear the two-thirds majority vote threshold.

“Well, well, I can see where this is going,” said Blair before the vote was cast Tuesday.

Republicans have long wanted to eliminate the tax on manufacturing equipment, calling it a major job killer. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a Republican, has said the tax cut was a top priority measure this session.

“Frankly, it’s a height of arrogance to deny the people of West Virginia an opportunity to decide how to tax themselves,” Carmichael said.

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