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A neurological disorder in W.Va.’s body politic

THE regulatory state, faced with the fact that it has strangled something — businesses, cities, etc. — finds it almost impossible to release its death grip on the victims' windpipes.

Watching the state try to let its cities live is like observing a neurological disorder in the body politic.

The head sends the message that it's better to loosen the fingers and let the organisms survive. But by the time the message gets to the fingers, life-saving deregulation has become throttling re-regulation.

It's amazing to watch.

West Virginia gives its cities few taxing powers. State officials have compounded that problem by grandly handing out pension benefits and then bucking to elected city officials the responsibility for paying for them without the ability to tax.

It's one of the great political tricks of all time.

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones, facing millions in

unfunded pension liabilities, also wants to fix the Charleston Civic Center, the key to a vibrant convention business. But he lacks the money for renovations.

A couple of months ago, Jones said he wanted to

impose a half-percent city sales tax while rolling back Charleston's business and occupation tax on retail sales and eliminating its B&O tax on manufacturers.

In the recent session, legislators, in a 16-page bill, amended their "home rule" law to let cities pass as much as a 1 percent sales tax — but only if they roll back or eliminate their business and occupation taxes.

But legislators added: " . . . if a municipality subsequently reinstates or raises the municipal business and occupation tax . . . it shall eliminate the municipal sales tax enacted under the Municipal Home Rule Pilot Program."

There you have it — highly regulated deregulation.

City leaders are baffled.

"As I read it, you can't increase your B&O tax once you've decreased it," City Manager David Molgaard told the Gazette.

"That's not the flexibility we're seeking."

Were the city to comply with what is likely to become state law, future city administrations could not adjust taxes they could adjust before. Furthermore, B&O tax policy isn't even governed by the hilariously named "home rule" bill.

Except it would be if Gov. Tomblin signed the bill.

"Throw away your crutches and walk," said the state to the cities. "Or else we'll break all your other sticks."

Or something like that.



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