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Hold tax bills for now

January 27, 1999

For months a commission appointed by Gov. Cecil Underwood has been studying ways to make the West Virginia's tax system more equitable. The commission's plan was to present its their findings during a special session of the legislature to be held later this year. Until then, state lawmakers were asked to hold off on any new tax proposals.

Well, they might as well have thrown a steak on the floor, then asked the family dog not to nibble on it. Apparently the temptation to tinker with the tax code in a piecemeal way is irresistible, despite the wishes of the governor or legislative leaders.

The Underwood commission is poised to eliminate the state's personal property tax and more than 20 separate tax credits, and its final report will reportedly recommend a formula that depends more on income taxes than property levies. But at this point, nothing is set in stone and Underwood planned to allow a full debate on the issues during the special session.

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That promise apparently wasn't enough for Del. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, who wants to revive the mortgage interest deduction eliminated back in the 1980s, or for Del. John Amores, D-Kanawha, who wants tax credits for day-care centers.

And then there's Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, who wants a $500 credit for parents who home school their children and a $1,000 credit for those who send their children to private schools.

And how much would all of these measures cost? No figures have yet been sent to House or Senate Finance Committees, so lawmakers have essentially presented plans without knowing whether or not they'll be affordable.

Faced with such illogical behavior, we hesitate to recommend any course of action, but here's one that seems to make sense:

Have legislative leaders bottle up these tax measures with the promise to reintroduce them (with cost figures) during the special session. Once state lawmakers know how much money it will take to make the system more equitable, then they can apply any revenue left over to their pet projects.

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