Political rival agendas debut for session

CHARLESTON – House Democrats’ hopes for the upcoming legislative session include increasing minimum wage and promoting energy resources, but they might not be too interested in passing tax cuts being pushed by their Republican colleagues.

Both parties rolled out their priorities Tuesday. Democrats have a wide-ranging wish list, including a $1 bump to the minimum wage, safety precautions for energy workers and perks for minority businesses and certain growing, regional industries.

House Democrats also created new committees on small business, energy and child protection.

With a budget shortfall, however, House Speaker Tim Miley said tax breaks heralded by Republicans would be a tough target. The Democratic-controlled Legislature starts its 60-day session today.

“It would be very hard to reduce taxes, in addition to what we’ve already done, this budget year,” Miley said.

Miley, D-Harrison, said some tax cuts end up hurting more than helping. He said a tax credit on flex fuel vehicles has cost the state $100 million.

He also defended the Democratic leadership’s record on taxes, claiming it had cut $425 million in taxes since 2006. Democrats hold a slight edge in the West Virginia House.

House Republicans are asking for a variety of tax relief. They argue a lower tax burden will revive a state that ranks near the bottom in job creation and median household income. They chided Democratic leaders over taxes and regulations, and asked for a jobs impact analysis for every piece of legislation.

Republican Del. Patrick Lane listed several ideas to reduce taxes. He wants to increase the homestead exemption for seniors, reduce the Social Security tax burden and raise the minimum income tax exemption.

He also wants to cut the tax businesses pay on their equipment and inventory. A similar push failed last legislative session.

At a press conference Tuesday, Miley said he supports Senate President Jeff Kessler’s idea to stow away some taxes from West Virginia’s growing natural gas industry. Kessler, D-Glen Dale, has touted the fund as a way to shore up future education and infrastructure money.

Miley cautioned, however, the future fund’s merit depends on exactly how it will be raised and spent. Coal, natural gas and oil interests have tentatively supported the future fund idea, but, like House Republicans, caution against any industry tax increases. Kessler has said the fund won’t require higher taxes.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will release his budget wish list today, which is expected to include cuts for state agencies.