Luring an ethane "cracker" plant to West Virginia - perhaps in Wood County - has become something of a holy grail of economic development. Now state officials say they are considering an extraordinary tax break to sweeten the proposals for companies considering such a facility here.
A cracker plant, used to separate valuable chemicals from natural gas, indeed would be quite a catch for our state. At a cost of as much as $2 billion, it would produce hundreds of good construction jobs. A substantial number of permanent positions also would come with the plant. And, it would make some existing industries more competitive by providing a nearby, presumably economical source of raw materials.
Royal Dutch Shell has indicated it may build a cracker plant in the Appalachian region. Company officials say a decision could be made by January.
One incentive West Virginia could offer is a big break on personal property taxes, some state officials say.
Other states in competition for the cracker do not collect personal property taxes, giving them an advantage over West Virginia. The break being discussed in Charleston could save the cracker plant operator as much as $500 million during a 25-year period.
Unfortunately, special incentives have become a way of life in attracting industries. States that don't offer them are at a disadvantage. Poorer states such as ours have less ability to match the deals offered by more prosperous neighbors.
Presumably, state legislators will decide soon whether to offer the cracker operator a property tax break. If the decision is made to do so, it will leave many existing business owners shaking their heads in disgust.
And why not? Thousands of businesses, big and small, operate in our state without benefit of special tax breaks. Their owners have every right to feel put out that their loyalty to West Virginia isn't being rewarded with the same kind of breaks being considered for a newcomer.
Clearly, tax reform needs to continue in West Virginia, so that existing businesses are rewarded for staying here - and new ones view our overall tax climate as inviting.
That way, no special breaks would be needed.