Justice voices opposition to Amendment 2 | News, Sports, Jobs

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Gov. Jim Justice, right, sits with his pet English Bulldog Babydog as he discusses his opposition to Amendment 2 on Friday at Wheeling’s Centre Market.

WHEELING — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Friday urged voters to “really stop and think” before casting a ballot in favor of Amendment 2 in the Nov. 8 general election.

Outside Coleman’s Fish Market in Wheeling’s Centre Market, Justice and Dave Hardy, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Revenue, laid out their opposition against the amendment, which they believe would help larger corporations more than West Virginia residents.

Representatives from Ohio County Schools, the Ohio County and Marshall County commissions and the cities of Wheeling and of Moundsville were among those present for the governor’s comments on Friday.

Amendment 2, “The Property Tax Modernization Amendment,” if passed, would give the West Virginia Legislature authority to exempt machines and equipment directly used in business activity from state property taxes. It also would eliminate vehicle property tax on personal vehicles, but Justice warned voters from being swayed by that language.

The proposed amendment additionally gives state lawmakers significant control over much property tax revenue that presently is directed to school districts, emergency services and municipalities.

“What if I were in Charleston and I came to you and said give me your wallets, give me all your money — and I promise to give it back? And I’m a politician. Is that what you really want to do?” Justice asked. “If you vote for Amendment 2, that is exactly what you are doing.

“We can’t be this dumb,” he added. “We just cannot be this dumb to do this.”

Justice, an owner of many businesses in the state, admitted he would “benefit by millions” if the machinery and equipment tax were eliminated.

“But, you see, I never signed off on that. I signed on for you,” he continued. “At the end of the day, the machine and inventory tax has nothing to do with you.”

Passage of the amendment would give the legislature control over $515 million of property tax revenue, or 27% of total property tax revenue in the state, according to a statement provided Friday by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

The amendment represents the “fulfillment of a long-term goal of state legislators to take control of a significant portion of property tax revenue in order to pursue a property tax cut that largely benefits out-of-state businesses,” the government agency stated.

Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron said Friday that passage of Amendment 2 would adversely affect economic development in the city. Wheeling City Council, at its last meeting, heard first reading of an ordinance to issue another tax increment financing bond for several projects around the city, including the city’s 1400 block, funding for The Stone Center and others.

“Because of Amendment 2, we have to plan for a reduction in that bond for economic development by 40%,” he said. “So if Amendment 2 passes, that bond would be reduced from $10 million to $6 million because we lose 40% of our increment, because 40% of our increment is personal property.

“It has other ramifications on budgets, etc., but from an economic development standpoint, in a real-world situation in downtown Wheeling, it is going to affect our ability to do projects and all the groundwork we’ve laid to do what we need to do is going to have to be cut back.”

Justice noted many new businesses have located to the state within recent years, and “zero” have asked about machine and inventory taxes” before committing to West Virginia.

He again pushed his idea for working toward eliminating personal income tax in the state to give residents “more money in their wallets.” Justice said he would start with just a 10% reduction, then increase it as the state’s economy supports the move.

“The state of West Virginia is doing (economically) good – really, really good,” Justice told a crowd who turned out for his statement. “From the standpoint of location, we’re just a rock’s throw from two-thirds of the population of this whole country.

“For them to get to a state that doesn’t have personal income tax, they drive right through us.”

Justice said he also would like to work toward eliminating property tax on vehicles, as is provided for in Amendment 2.

“I would go slow and easy,” he explained after his public comments. “I would go as aggressively as we could go, but only that (fast).”

Justice added what the legislature wants to do is help large corporations with its elimination of the machinery and equipment property tax.

“And it would not do diddly for the workers in the state of West Virginia,” he continued.

The vehicle tax elimination, meanwhile, was added in “to get your vote,” Justice said.

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