Guarding Against Runaway Taxation

Local government officials can be just as intemperate about taxation as their counterparts at the state and federal levels. Perhaps West Virginia’s founders had that in mind when they limited severely the ability of municipal and county officials to levy taxes.

Some of those limits are being eased by “home rule” legislation in West Virginia. By most accounts, giving more flexibility to city councils has been a good thing. That appears to be the case in Wheeling, one of the handful of home rule cities in the state.

More authority over taxation has led Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie to propose major changes much like those on the table in Charleston. In both cities, it is being proposed that business and occupation taxes, the bane of job-creating businesses, be reduced. At the same time, new sales taxes would be established, as we have reported.

Additional revenue from the changes would be used in various ways. Proposals in both Wheeling and Charleston call for substantial portions of the money to go to civic centers.

But Charleston Mayor Danny Jones is upset about a provision of the new state home rule legislation.

Part of the measure stipulates that home rule cities can increase sales taxes and lower B&O taxes. But it also requires that if a city at some point in the future rescinds the B&O tax break, it also must eliminate the municipal sales tax. According to a published report, some Charleston officials now say that may prompt them to abandon their plan for B&O tax relief.

McKenzie has expressed no such concern – and we do not expect him to do so.

What the new home rule legislation does, in effect, is prevent cities from telling residents that one tax increase will be offset to some extent by another tax break – then, at a later date, eliminating the latter while retaining the former.

Legislators were wise to include a ban against such abuse in their home rule bill. It should prevent shell game taxation that tends always to increase the burden on taxpayers.

Lawmakers sent the bill to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last month. He has yet to sign it – but he should do so, regardless of objections from Charleston officials.