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Amendment 2 on personal property taxes defeated

CHARLESTON — Amendment 2, the hottest issue on West Virginia ballots, was defeated on Election Night.

“It was an absolute, ill-fated idea,” said Gov. Jim Justice, who campaigned around the state against the amendment. The governor added, “We’ve heard the voice of the people.”

The MetroNews decision desk called Amendment 2 as defeated after the measure fell behind by thousands of votes.

With 27% of the vote in, MetroNews unofficial results showed 118,961 votes against the amendment and 62,955 in support.

“It’s a little bit of a surprise. You’re always nervous, waiting around on the results of an election,” said Matt Harvey, the Jefferson County prosecutor who is president of the West Virginia Association of Counties. “I really felt an energy against Amendment 2, and I think we’re feeling that today.”

Amendment 2 would allow the Legislature to exempt personal property taxes on people’s vehicles and also on what businesses pay on their inventory, equipment and machinery.

Property taxes, governed for decades by the state constitution, are a main piece of how local governments pay for services like school systems, ambulance services, libraries and more.

West Virginia voters were asked to decide whether to give the Legislature more authority to exempt some of those taxes.

“This turned out to be the biggest race on the ballot,” Harvey said during MetroNews’ Election Night coverage.

This is the summary: “To amend the State Constitution by providing the Legislature with authority to exempt tangible machinery and equipment personal property directly used in business activity and tangible inventory personal property directly used in business activity and personal property tax on motor vehicles from ad valorem property taxation by general law.”

Lawmakers like Senate President Craig Blair and Eric Tarr, both Republicans, said the measure would allow those businesses to make greater investments in West Virginia workers and capital. The senators have suggested money from the state would more than make up for what counties give up in property taxes. That could pay for expenses local governments now struggle to meet, including jail bills.

Justice, their fellow Republican, made dozens of stops around the state urging just the opposite. He and many county officials have argued that local governments would lose their own financial authority and wind up dependent on state government for funding.

The governor also argued that big corporations would be the economic winners and that the tax break on vehicles has been used as an incentive for West Virginia citizens.

“I think it was the key to the defeat of Amendment 2, no question,” Harvey said. “He’s the chief executive of the state, and a lot of people listen to what he has to say.”