West Virginia lawmakers eye eliminating personal property tax on vehicles

CHARLESTON — Elimination of the personal property tax on vehicles may be on the agenda this session at the West Virginia Legislature, a senator said.

However, lawmakers would have to find a way to reimburse local governments and school districts that benefit from that revenue, Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said.

Lawmakers are discussing a potential constitutional amendment to go before voters that would eliminate property taxes on automobiles, and also those paid by businesses on inventory.

“But that money goes to counties and boards of education,” Clements said. “We will have to have money to replace that, and the need varies from county to county. In my district, Calhoun County doesn’t have much (money). If we do away with the property tax, they would be in a bind.”

Clements, in echoing the thoughts of other officials, said the state budget situation “should be better” in 2018 than in recent years, freeing up time for legislators to concentrate on other matters.

“Income is up, and hopefully we can get the budget done within the 60-day session,” he said. “Then, hopefully, we can restore cuts made to education, and address the situation at regional jails and personnel. It’s a pretty touchy situation. We’re going to have train and then retain those working in our jails.”

That is not an easy task, as many of the workers are living at or below the poverty level, according to Clements. He said he is aware of some prison workers who are receiving government assistance.

“They have a very dangerous job,” Clements said. “Sometimes, they are called on to work 15- to 16-hour shifts. They will lose their edge after that long on the job. It’s a dangerous thing.”

Still, the Legislature is going to have to “walk a fine line” if they mandate pay increases for workers at regional jails, according to Clements.

“The regional jails are paid for by the counties, and many of them don’t have the money to give a pay increase,” he said.

Issues pertaining to the oil and gas industry also should take center stage — especially co-tenancy or forced pooling, Clements believes.

Presently, if there are multiple owners of a potential drilling unit, extraction cannot take place if any owner within the unit refuses to sign a lease of cannot be located.

“All it takes is one or two people to stop the (leasing) of a tract of land,” he said.

“But we can put a cap on that. If 75-80 percent of the people agree, then it could be leased. If an owner cannot be located, money can be set aside so they can claim it later.”

The Legislature, which goes into session later this month, also will discuss drilling leases signed before 1900 for “shallow wells” that are still in effect, according to Clements. Such leases need to be updated and brought up to date with the technology, he said.