WV SENATE ADVANCES TAX CUT FOR COAL, GAS DURING BUDGET CRISIS

By David Gutman, Staff Writer

In the midst of a WV budget crisis, the West Virginia Senate is moving forward with a long-planned multi-million dollar tax cut for the state’s coal and gas industries, proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The bill (SB 419) would remove the “excess” severance taxes on coal and gas that companies have paid since 2005 and which were first implemented to help pay off the state’s old workers’ compensation debts.

Those debts have just about been repaid — more than 10 years ahead of schedule — thanks largely to the Marcellus Shale boom, which speeded up the payment plan considerably.

The Senate Finance Committee quickly approved the measure Friday morning.

In the midst of a major budget shortfall, with declining state revenues and ever-escalating cuts, no senator questioned the tax cuts.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, raised concerns that the bill also raises taxes on the state’s timber industry, but there was no other discussion.

The bill passed on a unanimous voice vote, in a committee room largely empty save for members of the governor’s staff and coal and gas lobbyists.

Tomblin’s office and senators from both parties said the tax cut was about keeping a promise — that the taxes were only in place until the workers’ comp debt went away.

“As Senate president, Gov. Tomblin made a commitment to remove excess severance taxes on coal and natural gas once the Old Fund liability was paid off,” Shayna Varner, a Tomblin spokeswoman, said.