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WV House Passes State Opportunity-Zone Tax Breaks Despite Questions

Critics of state-level opportunity zone business tax cuts, such as Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Morgantown, argue the tax breaks include huge corporate-tax loopholes. (WV Legislative Photography/Perry Bennett)
Critics of state-level opportunity zone business tax cuts, such as Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Morgantown, argue the tax breaks include huge corporate-tax loopholes. (WV Legislative Photography/Perry Bennett)
June 20, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The West Virginia Legislature is moving forward with state-level opportunity zone tax breaks for businesses in spite of serious questions about how they're targeted.

House Bill 113 would create state level opportunity zones to piggyback on federal zones, promoted as helping disadvantaged areas.

But critics point out the census tracts proposed by local development officials and approved by the governor's office include some of the richest and already fastest growing parts of the state.

Delegate Mike Pushkin of Charleston says four were proposed in his district, and three were designated.

"The only census tract that I know of that is over 50% African American did not get it,” he points out. “Let's not pretend it's something it's not. On the federal level, it's a capital gains tax break for business, a corporate net income tax break for business on a state level."

Pushkin voted for the bill. But he says Greenbrier County, including the luxurious Greenbrier resort owned by the governor, has a cluster of opportunity zones.

An amendment requiring that data be gathered on the cost and effect of the state opportunity zones was voted down. A separate one requiring that 60% of the tax breaks go to businesses owned by women, veterans and minorities also failed.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer of Morgantown argued that over the years the state has granted hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate tax cuts based on false promises of economic growth. She says the only result was the loss of badly needed revenue.

"We should be very, very careful before we give away money that has been turned in from mostly people that are not high income,” she stresses. “Before we are requiring them to make an investment, we should be sure it's a good investment."

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly. It now moves to the Senate, where similar legislation had already passed.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV