- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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March 1

The Herald-Dispatch on sales tax change in West Virginia:

For all the talk about creating a more “business friendly” West Virginia, lawmakers in Charleston have cooked up a series of new taxes that are about as “unfriendly” as they can be.

The House of Delegates is considering House Bill 2704, which would place new sales taxes on many professional services that businesses and residents use every day - from legal visits and accounting services to haircuts and beauty salon appointments.

The net effect could be the largest tax increase placed on West Virginians in decades - an estimated additional $344 million per year. Just as concerning, the proposals were revealed with little warning and even less time for the public to voice its concern.

At first blush, the bill might seem to be a tax reduction, because it would reduce the state sales tax from 6 percent to 5.5 percent. But the action would bring in hundreds of millions in new revenue because it extends the tax to a wide range of professional services that have not been subject to the sales tax in the past.

While the change would affect all consumers, it would put a particular squeeze on business because so many of these services are business-to-business services, from janitorial services to advertising.

“Lifting the exemption on professional services amounts to a new tax on small businesses,” said Gil White, West Virginia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “What it would do is create additional costs for small businesses and put them in a bad situation: Do they raise prices to cover bookkeeping and other new expenses, and risk losing customers, or do they try to absorb the extra costs by not expanding or hiring new employees?”

Although the sales tax has traditionally been a tax on “consumption,” adding professional services makes it a tax on “production.” Almost certainly, much of the cost of the new expense will be passed along to the consumer, hurting everyone at a time when West Virginians already are facing layoffs and tough times.

Moreover, the change would put West Virginia’s business climate at a competitive disadvantage with most other states, which do not tax these business-to-business services. Florida tried something similar in the late 1980s, and after six months of controversy, repealed the new sales tax.

We understand the state is facing a budget crisis, but lawmakers need to find a solution that does not cripple business development in the state.

Online:

http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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Feb. 24

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on spring forest fire season:

Spring may be 18 days away, according to the calendar, but as far as the West Virginia Division of Forestry is concerned, spring has sprung - the spring forest fire season, anyway.

Limits on outdoor burning are now in effect, with burning limited to brush, leaves, yard clippings and other vegetative material between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. And, there must be a safety strip or ring at least 10 feet wide to keep fires from spreading to nearby woods.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, only 5.2 percent of outdoor fires are caused by nature - usually lightning strikes; that means the rest are caused by humans. Certainly there are some intentionally set fires, but often the cause is something as simple as an unattended campfire, unsafe burning of debris or even a carelessly discarded cigarette. Smokey Bear is not kidding when he says “Only you can prevent wildfires.”

Of course, if one is in need of more motivation than saving precious forest and wildlife from the devastation of a wildfire, there is added incentive in the form of fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 if the Division of Forestry determines an individual is responsible for starting a fire. That is assuming there are no criminal charges involved.

Cabin fever is makes a good bonfire in the evening sound even better, as temperatures begin to take fleeting shots upward. And, there are likely those getting ready for spring garden work by clearing a little debris that will get burned eventually.

Enjoy these early returns to the outdoors, folks, but be careful, follow the law and listen to Smokey.

Online:

http://www.newsandsentinel.com

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Feb. 27

The Journal on prioritizing legislative bills:

With slightly more than two weeks left in their regular session for this year and several full plates of important business still to address, West Virginia legislators are beginning to prioritize. Work on some bills already has ceased. As the days pass, the discard pile will grow larger.

It is important, then, for lawmakers to focus on bills that will do the most good for Mountain State residents. They should not be allowed to die simply because time is running out.

One of them is the brainchild of Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller. It would allow counties, in essence, to use some money for highway and bridge projects that now must be funded solely with state and federal funds.

Miller’s idea is sweeping enough that adoption would require approval of an amendment to the state constitution. A resolution providing for a vote on that, along with a bill authorizing the funding mechanism itself, have been moving steadily through the state Senate. Both were sponsored by Sen. Kent Leonhardt, R-Monongalia.

Though the legislative jargon needed to make the proposal a reality is complicated, the idea is quite simple: Some counties enjoy more revenue than they need for day-to-day operations. They have income available through property taxes that could be used to build new roads and bridges, thus attracting even more economic development. But under current law, they cannot spend it for that purpose.

Many local government officials like the idea, for obvious reasons. So do some in Charleston, where the possibility of local funding to supplement severely limited state money for highways and bridges is very attractive.

Miller’s proposal saw its initial airing last year - but limited time and the fact many legislators simply did not understand it resulted in it being shelved. This year, however, it has gained more traction.

It is a farsighted plan that could do a substantial amount of good for many counties in West Virginia - and it ought to be put on legislative leaders’ priority lists.

Online:

http://journal-news.net

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