- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s tax collections from coal and natural gas production continued climbing in April, exceeding budget estimates by almost $11 million and prompting state officials to predict an energy sector uptick continuing into next year.

The gain in mineral extraction tax receipts came from a 60 percent increase in natural gas prices from a year ago and 19 percent increase in the state’s coal production since Jan. 1, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said Wednesday.

“We’ve finally seen the bottom of the trough and we’re starting to recover, but it’s a very slow recovery,” Hardy said. “And that’s very encouraging, I think, but it also takes time for that economic activity to be reflected in any of the other numbers.”

Deputy Secretary Mark Muchow noted that the 28 million tons of coal mined in the first quarter may translate mathematically to about 84 million tons for the year. That’s still far lower than 140 million tons the state produced four or five years ago, he said.

That gradually declined to 95.6 million tons two years ago and 80 million last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

April tax collections overall were $468 million or about $58 million below the estimate, largely reflecting lower income tax return payments from lower 2016 earnings.

Muchow added that payroll tax withholding was up almost 2 percent for the quarter compared to the same time last year. That should also help boost sales taxes, which were down slightly before municipal transfers, he said.

The payroll data show individual income increases that should be reflected in next year’s taxes and returns, Hardy said.

With two months left in the state government’s fiscal year, it has collected $3.3 billion in taxes, a shortfall of $160 million below the estimate.

“The severance tax numbers will be higher next year than the current estimate for next year,” Muchow said. “The question will be all the other components.”

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