A select group of West Virginia lawmakers began an arduous process Monday, combing through the state's current tax code and finding ways to bring it "into the 21st Century," as one delegate put it.
The Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform was one of only four committees to meet during April interims, the first held under the new Republican leadership.
House Finance Chair Eric Nelson, who is co-chairing the committee with his Senate counterpart Mike Hall, told the group of 10 Republicans and four Democrats "everything is on the table," and for Hall, everything includes the state's personal income tax.
“Some state have no income tax," he said during Monday's meeting, "and we know that people gravitate toward those states. It would be wonderful it we could figure out a way to do that.”
Doing that, according to Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, would result in a $2 billion loss in revenue for West Virginia, or about 40 percent of the state's total budget.
“To do something like that, eventually getting rid of the personal income take, you’re talking about a major tax shift, most likely on low and moderate income people in this state who can least afford it,” he said.
Boettner said Monday he worries too much of the committee's focus will be placed on reducing business taxes and less on working families.
Both House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole addressed the committee before their organizational meeting Monday. Both expressed the importance of the work the committee will take on in the coming months they say will move the state forward.
Hall announced the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform will meet twice in May to begin delving into their work. At those first meetings, lawmakers will hear from those who crafted previous tax reform studies under the Underwood and Manchin administrations.
Cole has said in the previous weeks he would like to see a special session this fall for lawmakers to take up legislation to revise the state’s tax code.
Speaker Armstead said Monday that option is on the table, but he is waiting to see what the committee comes up with. He doesn’t want to push fellow lawmakers to vote on legislation that hasn’t been fully vetted and he is open to waiting until the 2016 session.