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Alliance Rapid Response Informs West Virginia Strategy to Defeat Repeal of State’s Personal Income Tax

Alliance allies in West Virginia helped organize a broad coalition to advocate against the repeal of the state’s income tax, which would have created a funding deficit with adverse impacts on early childhood and family support programs. TEAM for West Virginia Children utilized Alliance for Early Success Rapid Response to support coalition-building efforts. These strong partnerships assisted in defeating the Governor’s proposal and preserving the state personal income tax – despite a GOP super majority in both Houses.

Protecting the West Virginia Personal Income Tax

The day after his reelection, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice announced his intention to eliminate West Virginia’s personal income tax during the 2021 Legislative Session. The state’s personal income tax is over 40% of the state’s general revenue budget and is the largest source of revenue for the state. After multiple delays, the Governor introduced his proposal, which would have cut the personal income tax by 60% in the first year and partially offset those cuts through an increase in the consumer sales tax and other consumer-based taxes. These tax shifts in the budget would have primarily affected low-and middle-income households. Additionally, the personal income tax allocates 44% of revenue towards K-12 education. Therefore, enacting this bill would have posed a substantial risk to early childhood programs, family support programs, and WV’s public education system.

Jim McKay of TEAM for West Virginia Children collaborated with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and other partners to oppose the bill. They called for Rapid Response from the Alliance for Early Success to strategize an opposition plan to stop the Governor’s repeal of personal income tax. Annie McKay and Jason Sabo suggested broadening the coalition to include non-traditional partners and provided information and experience of other state examples, such as stopping the Kansas personal income tax repeal.

The WV Coalition developed shared messaging emphasizing the impact of the budget cuts, how the proposal would shift taxes to those who are least able to pay, and result in cuts to services and education that families rely upon. The Coalition also emphasized the importance of avoiding messages that describe taxes as a “burden.” Frequent meetings of the coalition were held to share information and develop strategies for action. Outreach was conducted to all new members of the Legislature and information regarding the impact of the income tax repeal was shared repeatedly in meetings and to the media. Representatives from Kansas spoke at the annual Budget Breakfast for Legislators and described their failed tax experiment. At every juncture, the Coalition communicated how this shift was “a bad deal for West Virginia families.”

As in-person access to the Capitol was limited, there was concern that legislators did not fully grasp how unpopular the proposal was with the general public. The coalition worked around these limitations by driving hundreds of calls and emails to key House targets, hosting a press conference outside of the Capitol with many people who would have been impacted by potential cuts to programs, and frequent email communications with members highlighting the WVCBP’s analysis of how regressive these proposals would be, falling most heavily on low- and moderate-income households.

As concerns with the impact of the tax cut proposal were raised, lawmakers developed their own approaches with a combination of tax shifts and proposed budget cuts, and the Governor continued to speak out in favor of eliminating the income tax as being key to the state’s future prosperity. Ultimately, 4 different versions of the bill were proposed. On the next to last day of the Legislative Session, following a Press Briefing where the Governor challenged the House to vote on his amended version of the bill that had narrowly passed the State Senate (18-16), House Bill 3300, was defeated unanimously 0-100 by the House of Delegates. “Every version of HB3300 would have slashed state revenues resulting in less funding for programs that families count on,” said Jim McKay, TEAM for West Virginia Children. 

Following the bill’s defeat, the Governor said he would go on the road to build public support for the income tax repeal and propose legislation during a special session. However, opposition to the plan remains high and on August 1st, Governor Justice declared the plan, “as dead as it can be right now.”

“Families are struggling. Programs that serve families have long wait lists, and this bill would have made things even harder for years to come. We are extremely thankful for support from the Alliance for Early Success, which bolstered our efforts, and for every member of the coalition who helped defeat this reckless proposal.”

Jim McKay
TEAM for West Virginia Children 

West Virginia allies plan to sustain their advocacy efforts for years to come and continue opposing future income tax repeal proposals.