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Statehouse beat: Fuel vehicle tax credit may be a loss of $100M

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In consecutive months, the alternative fuel vehicle tax credit has resulted in lost income tax collections to the state of $29 million in June, and $19 million in July.

So how much will the 2011 law -- effectively repealed April 14 -- cost the state in lost tax revenue?

According to Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow, "We're probably looking at close to $100 million."

Muchow said the tax break caught the department by surprise -- something that rarely happens -- because it started out as a minor provision in the 2011 Marcellus Gas and Manufacturers' Development Act to provide generous tax credits to car buyers, but for natural gas and propane-fueled vehicles only.

The tax impact was believed to be nominal, since there are so few natural gas-powered vehicles on the road. (Of the more than 6,500 vehicles to date that owners have claimed the tax credit, only 9 are natural gas-powered, Muchow said.)

However, the bill was amended in the final hours of the 2011 session to apply the credit to any hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle. With a write-off of 35 percent of the purchase price, up to $7,500 for passenger cars, and up to $25,000 for commercial vehicles, that created a rather significant dent in personal income tax collections -- to the point that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin introduced legislation in the regular session (SB185) to scale the credit back to its original, limited focus.

The governor's bill originally intended to close the credit retroactively, to vehicle purchases prior to Dec. 31, 2012. However, the legislative process being what it is, that got changed in the final version of the bill to the effective date of the legislation, which was this April 14.

Unfortunately, from the state's perspective, publicity about the tax credit's pending repeal -- as well as a lot of car dealers urging prospective hybrid buyers to take advantage of the credit -- led to a surge in alternative vehicle sales.

"This credit has been running high since at least March," said Muchow, who said the tax write-offs peaked in June.

In many cases, he said, taxpayers filed amended returns to claim the credit, which they were not aware of prior to publicity about the repeal bill.

***

Of note, of the initial signees to the new WVU/IMG Mountaineer Sports radio network, it appears that all were MSN affiliates, and most (seven of 11) are also Metronews affiliates.

(Consistent with info that radio stations wanting to carry Mountaineer sports broadcasts were strongly encouraged to also become Metronews affiliates ...)

Still waiting to see if John Raese shallows his pride and allows the half-dozen or so West Virginia Radio Corp. owned and operated stations that carried MSN to sign on as IMG network affiliates ...

There's talk that WVRC is looking at continuing to do pre-game and post-game shows independently of the IMG broadcasts, but that would seem to be problematic, beginning with the possibility (or probability) that the actual game broadcasts would air on other stations in each market.

There are also a lot of exclusivity provisions in the WVU contract with IMG, including provisions that would prevent WVRC's shows from originating from the stadium or Coliseum. Broadcasts originating from studios in Sabraton would seem awfully dull, although a sports bar format might be better.

Likewise, what's the point of a post-game show which, given the IMG contract, would have no player or coaches' interviews, and no access to game audio for highlights? (I suppose they could make like Ronald Reagan at WHO radio in Iowa, and re-create the play-by-play ...)

***

Speaking of Democrats turned Republican, I'm told some of the GOP county chairs and party faithful in the 3rd Congressional District are miffed they did not get even a courtesy call from state Sen. Evan Jenkins advising them he was changing parties to run for Congress.

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Speaking of WVU, interesting factoid in the new SREB Fact Book on Higher Education: The university ranks in the top 100 nationally in the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled as freshmen in 2011, tied for 98th with 16 scholars enrolled.

More evidence that WVU continues to make strides academically under President James Clements, although at some point, the state needs to heed the advice of former Delegate John Doyle and toughen admission standards for in-state students.

(I've often said WVU is a de facto selective admissions institution, since individual colleges and schools have separate, tougher admission requirements, such as the Journalism Qualifying Exam to enroll in the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism.)

***

Finally, I was at a loss Thursday evening when I started getting tweets from Delegate Justin Marcum, and others, referencing my guest appearance on the new History Channel reality series "Hatfields and McCoys-White Lightning."

I had to replay the episode to find the scene, where a Hatfield patriarch is reading the Sunday Gazette-Mail at the breakfast table -- and where my Sunday column photo sig is clearly visible for several seconds.

I've been checking the mailbox waiting for the residual checks to start rolling in.Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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