For nearly two weeks now, Democratic and Republican lawmakers and officials in West Virginia have been back and forth over whether to suspend the state’s 35.7-cent gasoline tax for 30 days.
Democratic members of the Senate and House of Delegates first proposed a gas tax freeze on March 17, five days after the end of the 2022 legislative session. go directly into the State Road Fund for highway maintenance and our road obligations.
They were quickly attacked the same day in a statement from Governor Jim Justice, who called it all a publicity stunt. He said it was beyond his purview – only the legislature could freeze the gas tax by statute. Justice wondered aloud why they hadn’t tried to pass a freeze before the end of the session.
This was followed by a joint statement from Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who expressed concern about the reaction of bond markets if the State was freezing the tax and whether it would go against it. from the U.S. Treasury Department and the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act that prohibit states that receive ARPA money from using those funds to offset tax cuts.
I will try to break down some of these issues. Just for a caveat, I take no position on whether the state should freeze gas tax for 30 days. But as the driver of a gas-guzzling 2007 Mercury Mariner, I certainly feel the pain at the pump like everyone else.
First, was it all a “publicity stunt” by Democratic lawmakers? I would say it’s about half and half. Of course, they are serious and I believe they express the concerns of voters. Still, it probably could have been handled with private requests to justice and Republican officials behind the scenes and when they didn’t get an answer or the answer they wanted, they were then taken to the podium. .
However, is the gas tax freeze solely a matter for the Legislative Assembly? It was pointed out that the deadlines for introducing bills in the House and Senate had passed by mid-February (except for bills originating from committees). Other delays made it problematic to present a new bill by the end of the March 12 session. Of course, these deadlines are set out in the rules of the House and the Senate and their joint rules. If the will exists, they can override these rules.
Then again, while gas prices were high in February, they rose after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, and no one knew what effect that would have in cutting off the Russian oil the United States receives. Fortunately, prices are slowly coming back down, partly because we really aren’t getting that much Russian oil in the scheme of things. But I can see why things would be more urgent coming out of the session than before.
So, is justice really powerless to freeze the gasoline tax? I would say no based on some of the actions he took in the months after a state of emergency was declared as the COVID-19 virus took hold in the state two years ago. . Specifically, in 2020, the judiciary moved the April 15 deadline for filing personal income tax returns to July. If he can do that, I don’t know why he can’t sign an order freezing the gas tax. With COVID-19 cases at pandemic lows, West Virginia still remains in a state of emergency with no end in sight.
Would freezing the gas tax harm the state’s ability to pay the obligations? I don’t see how if the Democratic caucus idea of replacing lost revenue with available excess tax revenue is used. This could be done through statutory appropriations or through the Governor’s Civil Contingency Fund and repaid with surplus dollars.
What about US Treasury rules and ARPA’s anti-tax cut provision? Three federal courts have stayed the Treasury Department’s enforcement of this provision, including a case brought by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Most legal experts think the U.S. Supreme Court would likely rule the provision unconstitutional.
Once these issues are resolved, I believe the Governor or the Legislative Assembly via a special session could freeze the gas tax for 30 days and top it off with excess dollars with no real impact. But would it really help in the long run?
The most recent poll in the new Republican primary in the 2nd congressional district between Representatives David McKinley and Alex Mooney shows a race that will be close and that many West Virginians are not yet engaged.
The McKinley campaign should likely list the survey commissioned by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce as an in-kind contribution given the brilliance of the North Star Opinion Research memo. But this was a live telephone poll conducted between March 13 and 15 of 400 likely Republican and unaffiliated voters, so it’s a pretty good snapshot.
To quickly recap, in a race that factors in the other three Republican candidates, McKinley beats Mooney 38% to 33%. In head-to-head competition, McKinley beat Mooney 46% to 39%. And when pollsters told respondents of McKinley’s accomplishments, he beat Mooney 61% to 26%.
There are still many undecided voters. Even with the onslaught of TV commercials, most probably won’t start paying attention to the race until mid-April. These voters will be crucial to whoever wins the constituency.
During the annual building and design expo last week, McKinley told attendees during his opening address that if he were re-elected in May and Republicans took over the House in November, he would become probably chairman of the energy or environment subcommittees of the House Energy and Commercial Commission.
McKinley is already the top Republican member of the environment subcommittee. If that happens and the Republicans also take the US Senate, it could mean US Senator Shelley Moore Capito becoming chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The flip side is that if the Senate becomes GOP, Manchin steps down as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]