Editorials, Opinion

Amendments 1 & 2 about checks on gov’t, local control

When you go to the polls, either this week for early voting or next week on Election Day, you’ll be asked to vote on four constitutional amendments. Today, we’ll cover Amendments 1 and 2, and tomorrow we’ll discuss Amendments 3 and 4.

Amendment 1, if passed, would give the Legislature the power to impeach/remove any government employee and make such a decision unreviewable by any court, including the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

This amendment stems from the Legislature’s 2018 attempt to impeach all the sitting West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals justices for excessive spending. A substitute Court of Appeals found that the Legislature violated one former justice’s right to due process as well as the House’s own rules for the impeachment procedure. In light of that, the substitute court threw out the impeachments of that justice and two others. Amendment 1 is the Legislature’s retaliation.

Whether the justices deserved be impeached was not the question before the substitute court; the question was whether the Legislature had followed the process set out in the state constitution and whether it had violated the individual’s rights as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.

Amendment 1 would take away the courts’ ability to check the Legislature, and it would give the Legislature free rein to unseat any official it decides it doesn’t like, without any recourse for the victim. In order to maintain the careful system of government checks and balances, voters should say no to Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 would change the West Virginia Constitution to give the Legislature the ability to change the taxes for business property and machinery, as well as personal vehicles — a power that currently belongs to counties to fund county services.

The language of the Property Tax Modernization Amendment technically only grants the Legislature the ability to change those taxes and does not technically implement any specific changes. However, the state Senate has already laid a plan for the changes it wants to make — and that plan is basically a corporate tax cut disguised as an individual tax break.

The Senate’s plan calls for eliminating the personal property tax on equipment, machinery and inventory used for business, then throws a bone to individuals by also removing the personal property tax on personal vehicles. But to be clear, eliminating those taxes will benefit business — particularly large corporations — far more than it will any state resident.

The biggest problem with Amendment 2 is that it jeopardizes county funding, specifically for schools, emergency response services (sheriffs, fire, EMS) and health departments — which are paid for with personal property taxes.

The Senate has promised to “backfill” counties’ lost revenue, but that promise is predicated on this year’s surplus. And, as Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom pointed out previously, a promise made by this Legislature is not binding for future Legislatures, which will not be obligated to compensate counties for the lost funding. But once that local control has been taken away, it cannot easily be returned.

Amendment 2 isn’t really about tax breaks or even about funding mechanisms: It is foremost about control and who has it. If you favor local control over local taxes and local services, then you should vote no on Amendment 2.