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Statehouse Beat: W.Va. has 18th lowest tax burden

Phil Kabler

With this being Tax Day eve, I wanted to take note of a recent study by WalletHub comparing states for state and local tax burdens.

We frequently hear anecdotal information, i.e., we know in West Virginia our gas taxes are relatively high, and our property taxes are among the lowest in the country, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a valid head-to-head comparison with other states.

For the study, the researchers took an average American household, with a home valued at about $175,000, a household income of $66,000, an automobile valued at $17,500, and median spending on gasoline, food, household appliances and furnishings, entertainment, etc., then hypothetically placed that household in each state, and determined the tax burden (property taxes, income taxes, vehicle taxes, sales taxes, fuel taxes, et. al.) by state.

The findings: West Virginia had the 18th lowest tax burden, at $6,598, or 5 percent below the national average.

(Wyoming and Alaska had the lowest tax burdens, at $2,365 and $2,791 respectively, while California and New York had the highest tax burdens, at $9,509 and $9,718.)

West Virginia had a lower tax burden than any surrounding states, with Virginia being next lowest, coming in 27th, at $7,333. Maryland had the highest tax burden of any neighboring state, finishing 41st, at $8,571.

One obvious rebuttal is that the average West Virginia household is nowhere close to being on par with the average American household, and a low tax burden is a necessity for households struggling from paycheck to paycheck.

However, given that the 2015 Legislature will almost certainly have to raise some taxes, the study is a good starting point for that debate.

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Meanwhile, the governor is the only public official allowed under the Ethics Act to accept gifts valued at $25 or more (on behalf of the state), and his 2013 disclosures to the Ethics Commission list only gifts estimated to have a value of $25 or more.

On the positive side, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin indicates all gifts received are on display either in the governor’s office or governor’s mansion — none suffered the ignominy of being sent to state archives, which is governorspeak for get this junk out of my sight...

Tomblin received several sesquicentennial gifts in 2013, including a Civil War commemorative coin from the Wheeling Civil War 150th Committee; a framed display of the West Virginia stamp issued June 20, from the U.S. Postal Service; and a 150th commemorative edition Blenko glass, from Katie Trippe, vice president of Blenko Glass Co.

He also received gifts coinciding with the Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County, including a wooden bowl carved from a tree from the reserve, and a carved walking stick, both from the Boy Scouts of America.

From his European trade mission, Tomblin received a piece of Murano glass from Pietro Fiorentini, a natural gas distribution technology company headquartered in Arcugnano, Italy.

He received a wooden clock from Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti.

Tomblin also received several books, including “The Financial Crisis and the Free-Market Cure” from author John Allison; “Five Days at the Memorial” by Sheri Fink, from Jessica Prudhomme, associate marketing director for the Crown Publishing Group; “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet” by Todd Wilkerson, from Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute; and “Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science” from John Nothdurft, government relations director for The Heartland Institute.

(Quite a dichotomy in the last two books, one saying we must act immediately to save the planet, the other contending that human activity has little impact on global warming...)

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The idea the Legislature would call themselves into special session to re-pass the 20-week abortion ban is too ludicrous to warrant comment. At a $30,000 a day cost for a special session, and millions of dollars more to defend a bill that it is already established is constitutionally indefensible, any legislators who would propose a special session could be called a lot of things, but fiscal conservative is not one.

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Finally, if I were a state employee, today would be my first day of retirement. Alas, here in the private sector, that is not the case, and there are many miles yet to go.

I was once asked if we have Rule of 80 at the Gazette, and I said, yes, but it’s not like Rule of 80 for teachers and state employees. At the Gazette, you have to work until you’re 80 to have enough money for retirement...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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