- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia reported a 15 percent increase in October income-tax collections, reflecting gains in employment from a year earlier, but overall state revenues of $322.3 million were 2 percent below this year’s budget estimate.

The Department of Revenue said overall collections for the first three months of the state fiscal year were almost $1.24 billion, slightly ahead of last year but $87.4 million below the estimate.

The hike in personal income taxes came mainly from a 12.4 percent rise in payroll withholding. The report also showed quarterly severance tax distributions up slightly for coal but down 35 percent for natural gas and oil due to lower energy prices.

“We’re getting some pieces of information that are better news than we have seen for some time,” Department Secretary Robert Kiss said.

State and federal labor officials reported that West Virginia’s total employment reached 745,300 in September, up by 6,800, the highest level in more than three years. At the same time, the civilian labor force increased to 790,800 - up by 12,000 with more people also actively looking for work.

Most of the job gains came in the service sector, led by health care and including professional business services, according to Workforce Development West Virginia. Mining jobs were down and manufacturing was flat.

The September unemployment rate was 5.8 percent, up slightly with the increase in people seeking jobs.

The state’s leading candidates for governor, Republican Bill Cole and Democrat Jim Justice, have campaigned on promises to help the state’s economy troubled by a sharp downturn the past few years in coal mining and employment.

Kent Gates, a spokesman for Cole, said he’s “encouraged by the slight increase in revenue collections last month especially coal severance taxes and personal income taxes. While there are signs that the economy is growing … West Virginia has a long way to go to recover,” he said.

Justice spokesman Grant Herring said Justice “predicted several months ago that there would be an uptick in our natural resources and our economy. Jim believes it can continue and pave the way for new jobs in our state while diversifying the economy.”

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