Tax Questions With West Virginia Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Cole

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Tax Policy

Bloomberg BNA recently posed a series of tax-centric questions to the Republican and Democrat candidates for governor in Washington. Below are the responses from Republican candidate Bill Cole.

Bill Cole

Interview by Christopher Brown

Bill Cole entered the West Virginia Legislature in 2010, when he was appointed to the House of Delegates by Gov. Joe Manchin (D). He won a seat in the Senate two years later and then helped lead the successful Republican effort in 2014 to win control of that body for the first time in 83 years. He was elected Senate president in the aftermath of the 2014 election. Cole has been a businessman for 30 years and currently is the owner of a group of auto dealerships and an aviation company. He received a bachelor’s degree from Northwood University and is married with four children.

Editor's Note: Bill Cole didn't respond to Bloomberg BNA's tax questionnaire that sought his opinion related to priorities on state and local tax issues, hurdles in enacting his tax policy priorities, challenges in the tax and revenue realm facing the state in light of market conditions and whether the state’s tax regime is properly balanced. Below are comments from Kent Gates, Cole's spokesman, and Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Cole would like to reform and modernize the state’s tax code, said Kent Gates, his campaign spokesman. But the first order of business for state officials is dealing with a looming $350 million budget deficit expected for the coming fiscal year.

“Bill Cole has some ideas for tax code changes, such as lowering the sales tax rate and broadening the base,” Gates told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 28. “We’d also like to take a look at the coal severance tax, a tax on coal production that many other states don’t have and which makes West Virginia uncompetitive, and the business personal property tax, which gets in the way of business investment and growth in jobs. But before anyone can talk about changes to the tax code, we have to get a handle on spending and on programs we have in the state that we don’t need or can’t afford. Before we modernize our tax code, we need to modernize our government.”

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Cole for governor, said the chamber agrees that the state’s first priority should be controlling spending rather than looking for ways to cut taxes.

“We’re going to need to either cut spending or increase revenue,” he told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 25. “It doesn’t mean that you have to cut with a broadaxe, there could be surgical cuts that would help. But we really need to look at our programs and decide what our state government should be doing.”

As for Gates’s suggestions about possible tax-code changes, Roberts said that significant reform will only be possible as part of a comprehensive re-evaluation of the state’s tax and revenue situation.

“The state’s budget problems can be attributed in part to a collapse in revenue from the coal severance tax, which was the source of around $450 million as recently as fiscal year 2011,” Roberts said. “But it brought in just $250 million in the most recent fiscal year.”

The business personal property tax also is an important source of revenue, particularly for local governments and school districts, Roberts said. But because it is embedded in the state constitution, changing it would take a vote of the people rather than just a vote in the Legislature.

“We think that the new governor should be open to a comprehensive review, including a review of the state constitution,” Roberts said. “But that’s a tax that will be tough to change.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Brown in St. Louis at ChrisBrown@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ryan C. Tuck at rtuck@bna.com

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