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Justice suggests rebate for personal property taxes on vehicles

Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a rebate for the personal property taxes people pay on vehicles, although he was not specific about when the Legislature would consider his idea.

Justice has been campaigning across the state against the Amendment 2 proposal that would give legislators the authority to exempt personal property taxes on vehicles and on what businesses pay for inventory, equipment and machinery. He has characterized the amendment’s potential relief on vehicles as a sweetener that’s really meant to lead to the break for businesses.

The governor also has expressed strong concern over the financial support local governments derive from property taxes, saying all bets would be off with the amendment’s passage.

“I’ve found a way to take that off the table,” Justice said of the amendment.

So, in an announcement Tuesday, Justice said he would provide an alternative. Justice called it the “Car and All Vehicle Tax and Elimination and Protection of Local Government Act.”

His description indicated, though, that people would still need to pay personal property taxes on vehicles but then could anticipate a rebate.

“Under my plan, each year, all West Virginians — all West Virginians: companies, businesses and all West Virginians who own a vehicle — would receive a full dollar-for-dollar refund for personal property taxes paid to the county sheriffs in 2022 and every year going forward,” he said.

“The refundable credit is paid from the West Virginia general revenue fund and does not in any way interfere with the property tax revenue stream guaranteed to the local governments and school boards since 1932.”

Justice said the total amount would be $145 million.

Property taxes have been defined in the state Constitution since the 1930s. So, making constitutional changes would require an amendment approved by citizens. Amendment Two will be on ballots for the Nov. 8 election, and early in-person voting begins straight ahead, Oct. 26.

That’s why Justice’s proposal doesn’t directly eliminate the taxes but instead would continue the practice of collections by local sheriff’s departments, followed by rebates through a separate source of funding, the state’s General Fund.

This alternative would require legislative representatives to pass a bill.

“I ask you to call your legislators today and urge them to vote for this and vote for it right now,” Justice said. “I’ve asked our people over and over and over, find me a way to get the car tax thing settled. I have told you a thousand times I am absolutely for getting rid of your car tax. This is no game.”

Justice did not call a special session to consider a bill, though. During a separate briefing Tuesday, Nexstar reporter Mark Curtis asked the governor to clarify the timetable.

“I really believe it’s going to be difficult to do before the election, but we could drop it in between when we come back for regular session and after the election,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a little difficult to do from that standpoint.”

The governor also suggested the proposal would not be a bureaucratic hokey-pokey. He said the state revenue department has already been closely involved with crafting the system. “People that are coming up with an excuse or a bush to hide behind, more power to ‘em,” Justice said.

“From the standpoint of the taxpayer having to take some extra time to fill something out, I think we can figure that out,” he said.

Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said he’s spoken extensively with the tax commissioner, who expressed confidence in the ability to institute a rebate system. “We vetted that very carefully before we would agree and propose an idea,” Hardy said. “It will be a very simple application, and tax is very well equipped to return money to the public. That’s what they do every day.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, was among the first legislators to comment. He was favorable.

“I would answer a call to go to Charleston to pass this bill. I think there should be a special session and we should all line up behind it,” Hansen told WAJR Radio.

“I just want to emphasize that when the Legislature was considering the resolution to put Amendment 2 on the ballot, it was a Democratic amendment that added the vehicle tax to that amendment. This was an idea that we’ve had for a long time.”

Democratic legislative leaders issued a statement in support of the governor’s proposal. Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff urged action right away.

“Inflation is real. People are hurting now. We fully support eliminating the car tax to help our people. Democrats proposed this idea back in March of 2021. We are glad Governor Justice is with us in eliminating the car tax. Why wait any longer? Let’s do it now. We call on the WVGOP to join us in providing immediate tax relief for the people in a special session,” the legislators stated.