Trade, vocation education savings bill heads to WVa governor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would let West Virginia students open a tax-free savings account specifically for trade or vocational paths won final legislative passage Thursday.

Both the House of Delegates and the state Senate unanimously approved the bill earlier. The House on Thursday concurred with Senate tweaks of the bill, which now goes to the governor.

State Treasurer Riley Moore said the bill “will truly help us build up our blue-collar workforce and rebuild our middle class.”

Many accredited vocational and technical colleges already allow students to use a regular prepaid college savings account, such as West Virginia’s Smart529 program, to pay for school-based expenses.

Under the bill, individuals can make annual tax-free contributions up to $25,000 to an account not just for school-related bills but to help cover the business startup costs, equipment, tools, certifications and licenses needed for their occupation.

Family members and the student’s employer also can make contributions to the account. The student could withdraw funds from the account tax-free as well.

Moore said the plan was inspired by his experience as a welder doing maintenance work on equipment at open-pit mining operations. He said he considered starting an independent contracting business.

“I found out very quickly how expensive it can be to start your own business and pay for your own equipment and tools,” Moore said in a statement. “It didn’t make sense to me that we can have so many options available to help people pay for community college or vocational school, only for them to run into a barrier when they find out they need to pay for their licenses, tools and equipment after graduating.”

The Jumpstart Savings Act “is designed to help remove that barrier and empower our blue-collar workers to enter these trades.”

Business, union and trade groups have endorsed the bill.