‘Stay in the State’ Tax Credit
Now this is the kind of bill The Hub can get behind!
HB 4585, sponsored by a bipartisan group of Delegates (many of whom are among the youngest Delegates in the Legislature), would provide a tax credit to all graduates of West Virginia colleges who stay in the state after graduation.
The tax credit would be dedicated to paying off outstanding student loans the graduate collected from the cost of his or her education. The tax credit could also be taken by an employer who is paying off a full-time employee’s loans.
As the bill is written, the tax credit can be provided for up to 10 years and can cover up to the total cost of tuition and interest for receiving a bachelor or associate’s degree at a West Virginia institution of higher education.
Yeah, we’ll repeat that: The tax credit could cover the total cost of tuition and interest for an undergraduate or associate degree from a West Virginia college or university.
Let’s hope this bill has the wind at its back. It heads to the House Education Committee before running the gauntlet of the House Finance Committee. We’ll keep you updated on its progress.
A Comprehensive Approach to Funding Roads
As the Senate floor session drew to a close on Wednesday, Senator Ron Miller from Greenbrier County stood up to give remarks to his fellow senators.
“There is a passage in the Bible that says, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’”
The Senator urged his fellow legislators to move forward proposals addressing the state roads and infrastructure maintenance, stating that West Virginia needed them to be visionary in identifying how to fix our roads.
In his remarks, Senator Miller specifically referenced a bill introduced earlier that week in the Senate that provides a comprehensive approach to generating and maintaining revenue to fix the roads and state infrastructure.
SB 610, introduced by Senator Ed Gaunch of Kanawha County, has 19 co-sponsors. This is a significant number in a chamber of only 34 people. SB 610 has enough sponsors to have a majority vote on the floor already. It also has enough co-sponsors to give it a majority vote on it’s only committee reference: the Finance Committee. This seems like a bill that is ready to zoom through the Senate.
The bill changes a number of taxes relating to cars, gas and all things relating to them, including increasing the revenue generated through the motor fuel excise tax and the consumer sales and service tax. In addition, it increases fees from the Division of Motor Vehicles for a number of things (including raising the fee for your drivers license from $25 every ten years to $80), and creating an additional registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles.
There’s a fiscal note attached to the bill, but no information yet on how much revenue it would generate for roads. We certainly hope that information will be shared in the coming weeks.
Senator Miller said there is word that SB 610 won’t get any movement on the House side, but urged his chamber to work to pass the bill regardless of what the House may or may not do.
Voters have asked legislators to do something to fix our roads. This is one big solution that a majority of Senators support. We’ll be watching to see what happens with it.
More Revenue Generators: Cigarette & Soda Taxes
There’s been a lot of conversation over the past couple of weeks about the proposed cigarette tax increase.
The Governor proposed a tax increase as part of his budget proposal at the State of the Union. Public health advocates have pushed for an even bigger cigarette tax of $1 per pack (as compared to the Governor’s proposed 45 cent tax hike). They argue that the higher tax will generate both more revenue and higher reductions of smoking rates.
There is so much interest in this idea that there are 10 separate bills currently pending in the Legislature to increase taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products. But, despite the Governor’s interest, most of these bills have not moved from their initial committee assignment – except for one.
On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee moved forward SB 420, which was amended to raise the cigarette tax from 55 cents per pack to $1.55 cents per pack. The bill originally included a 45 cent tax increase but was amended in committee – over objections from the Governor’s Office and some committee members – to a $1 increase.
A long discussion was had by the committee about the bill and the amendment, with many arguing that the amendment would end up killing the bill because the increase was too much.
There is plenty of time still to amend this bill and take the increase back down below $1. It will be worth watching to see if the higher increase manages to survive and get passed out of both chambers.
Beyond the cigarette tax increase, another potential revenue generator caught our eye.
In the past week, two bills were introduced to add an additional tax on soft drinks, syrups and dry mixes.
This type of bill, introduced this year at HB 4504 and SB 604, is commonly known as a “Soda Tax”. While the bills are not identical, they are similar in their intention to increase revenue from the sale of sugary drinks.
Neither of these bills are likely to make much movement this year, but it did catch our attention that this type of bill was introduced by Senator Tom Takubo, a Republican doctor from Kanawha County. Similar soda taxes were implemented in New York City as a public health measure to encourage people to drink less sugary drinks. It’s hard to say whether this idea is to to improve public health, increase revenue, or do a little of both at the same time.