- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly have now approved extended coal-related tax credits by veto-proof margins, putting Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a potentially tight spot.

The governor vetoed similar legislation last year and Democrats in the General Assembly helped sustain the veto. He has spoken out this year against extending the credits, saying they’ve been ineffective at staunching the loss of coal-related jobs in Southwest Virginia.

“It hasn’t worked. We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on it and we’ve lost a lot of jobs,” McAuliffe said earlier this month.

But with significant Democratic support for extending coal tax credits this year, McAuliffe could soon face a tough choice: sign a bill he doesn’t like or risk his perfect record on having vetoes sustained.

The House passed legislation Friday extending two coal tax credits a few years. They are set to expire shortly. The Senate passed its version of the legislation earlier this week.

Utilities using coal and coal mine operators claimed $37 million worth of tax credits in fiscal 2015, according to state records.

Republican supporters of the measure said it was necessary to help southwest Virginia’s hard-hit coal industry, which has been in a steep decline due partly to abundant and cheap natural gas and tighter environmental rules.

At Friday’s vote in the House GOP Del. Terry Kilgore showed delegates a picture of coal miner’s hands, saying it was to remind legislators that extending the credits would help preserve coal mining jobs.

“I just wanted to show you who we’re fighting for on this tax credit,” Kilgore said.

McAuliffe and environmental groups say the credits don’t work as intended. Glen Besa, director of the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, said the tax credits aren’t helping coal miners but are instead “going to the very coal executive who laid them off.”

Besa said he’s concerned McAuliffe will not want to risk losing a veto override battle, so environmentalists will be focusing on getting enough Democrats to reverse their position on the bill in order to sustain a potential veto.

Vetoes can only be overridden by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. Republicans control both chambers, but don’t have a super majority in either one.

“We’ve got to convince the governor he has the votes,” Besa said.

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