Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Issues and Eggs tackles state growth
Sarah K. Winn

Gazette Staff writer

Each year, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce’s legislative agenda has a simple purpose, chamber chairman Jim Sturgeon said during Wednesday’s annual Issues and Eggs breakfast.

“Our goal [with the legislative agenda] is for economic development for our community, the Kanawha Valley and our state,” Sturgeon told the crowd gathered at the Charleston Marriott.

As part of the Charleston Area Alliance, the chamber serves as the legislative voice for the alliance’s members.

The 2008 agenda has some familiar requests, including:

Increased investment in research through the West Virginia Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (WVEPSCoR).
Non-partisan election of judges.
Incentives for long term care insurance.
Medical criteria for asbestos/silica lawsuits.
Transportation planning and funding.
Elimination of the business franchise tax.

Sturgeon said the Chamber was successful last year in lobbying for reducing business taxes in the state, and continued collaboration is essential.

“In the modern legislative process, it’s a pay-as-you go process,” he said. “Let us eliminate the tax on business investment in West Virginia. Let us find ways together to pay for it.”

In July 2007, the business franchise tax dropped from .70 to .55 percent. Further reductions are scheduled until 2012, with the rate landing at .20 percent. At this rate, the state will generate about $35 million annually, according to a white paper prepared by the chamber.

In this year’s agenda, the chamber suggests an increase in the cigarette tax — from 55 cents to $1 to pack — to help cover the annual revenue from the business franchise tax. At the increased $1 rate, the state could generate about $60 million in new revenue, according to the white paper.

Richard Thompson, speaker of the House of Delegates, said the Legislature worked hard to reduce taxes last session, adding that the reductions helped save businesses $28 million in 2007 and will do the same in 2008.

“I hope we can do more,” said Thompson, D-Wayne.

Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said taxes are the biggest economic development issue in this session.

McCabe wants to eliminate the business franchise tax and reduce other business taxes, he said.
“Look at the states around us,” he said. “[With the tax changes], we will be able to do battle with anybody anywhere.”

Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, agreed, saying the elimination of the business franchise tax should happen sooner rather than later.

Eliminating the tax now, instead of over five years, will help stretch out the state’s current surplus and, in turn, immediately attract businesses to West Virginia, he said.

“This is one of the most important things in creating jobs in West Virginia because of the economic stimulus it can create,” he said.

Although not specifically addressed by the Chamber, two delegates addressed recent developments in the privatization of the state’s workers’ compensation system.

A joint Judiciary Committee panel voted on Sunday to move a bill forward that requires the state’s insurance commissioner to inform the Legislature of all proposed changes to rules, policies and guidelines in the now-privatized workers’ compensation system.

Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline and several trade associations have raised concerns over the proposal, saying it would have a chilling effect.

“The Legislature, in my opinion, is committed to privatization of workers’ compensation,” Thompson said.

Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha and House Judiciary Chairwoman, said the bill will simply allow the Legislature to be informed.

“It is to [the constituents’] benefit that we know what is going on. That is open democracy,” she said. “Let us be involved so you all are involved.”

To contact staff writer Sarah K. Winn, call 348-5156.


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