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WV Center On Budget and Policy: State Should Make Tax System More Fair

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GRAPH: The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says the state's tax system lands unfairly on poor and middle-income households. Graph courtesy of WV-COBP.
GRAPH: The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says the state's tax system lands unfairly on poor and middle-income households. Graph courtesy of WV-COBP.
April 15, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As West Virginia lawmakers consider reforming the state's tax code, the West Virginia Center On Budget and Policy is arguing that it needs to be made fairer to low- and middle-income families.

Over time, said Ted Boettner, executive director of the center, the state's tax system gradually has come to favor the wealthy.

"West Virginia has an upside-down tax system," he said. "If you look at who pays taxes here in our state, (it) turns out that the middle-class and low-income families pay a larger share of their incomes in state and local taxes than the wealthiest households in the state."

Republican legislative leaders have said they might consider getting rid of the state's income tax. Boettner said that could well make the tax system even less fair by putting more reliance on the sales tax, which lands hardest on the poor.

Boettner said one problem is that, with inflation, tax brackets designed to apply to the rich now apply to workers in the middle class. He said the highest state income-tax rates hit a plateau and now reach fairly low into the income spectrum.

"So, more and more middle-income people are falling into that high rate," he said. "The higher-income people aren't paying their fair share, even though they're the ones that have benefited from all of the growth over this period."

Twenty-five states now have a state version of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, a policy that economists say has been very effective in helping the working poor. Boettner said he thinks West Virginia also should have a state EITC, in part because it would help children in low-income families get a better start and be more productive, long-term.

"One thing we could do on the bottom end is to have a refundable Earned Income Tax Credit," he said. "At the higher end, we can have higher rates on those at the very top, those that have benefited the most from economic growth over the last 30 years."

A legislative special committee on tax reform is discussing the issues now.

More information is online at wvpolicy.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV