MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (DC News Now) — Gov. Jim Justice said it’s very simple: He wants to lower everyone’s personal income tax by 50%, and he’s using town halls across the state to sell it.
Not everyone thinks it’s a great idea, especially given that the money from a tax cut could go towards education or infrastructure improvements. Some say it’s a boondoggle for the rich in the state.
Still, the governor said this is a priority for his administration, especially if West Virginia wants to grow its population and shake its image nationally as an undesirable place.
”The real thing about the tax plan is just this: I’m a real believer, put the money in the people’s hands, put the money in the people’s pockets, the hard-working everyday average people and them determine what they want to do with their money,” Justice told DC News Now in an exclusive interview.
The town hall meeting at the Berkeley County Courthouse was packed with more than 60 people to see the governor and his English bulldog “Babydog” that accompanies him wherever he goes — and, of course, to hear about his plan.
But even though Justice told the crowd that this will grow his state and help attract residents, several in this crowd were not amused or convinced.
”I have an idea,” an unidentified man in the crowd said to the governor, pointing. “If you want ideas on how to spend money in this surplus that you’ve got at Charleston, increase the salaries of those people who are out there working their butts off every day to keep us safe and to teach our children.”
That comment elicited cheers. but Justice contended that states with lower taxes such as Florida, South Carolina and Wyoming, are the ones growing their populations.
With a $700 million state surplus, the governor says residents deserve it back. But his plan has stalled. The House is on board but not the Democrats in the state Senate. Eric Householder, the Republican House majority leader, accompanied Justice to the town hall and also promoted the plan.
“We don’t need all your money that’s coming to us,” the governor told the crowd. “You need the money in your pockets.”
Justice said he’s willing to negotiate a tax cut deal with the state legislature that would include more for education and infrastructure.
“At the end of the day, if we just get on a pathway, a substantial pathway, to reducing our income tax, I would compromise in a second,” he said. “In addition to that and everything, we want to lengthen it out. We’ve just got to be reasonable and get to the table.”
While the governor said he received positive feedback from previous town halls, this one was no cakewalk.
Ruth Hatcher attended Justice’s town hall after initially not wanting to go. She’s very skeptical, she said.
”When we were growing up, there’s a saying: If something’s too good to be true, it probably is,” Hatcher said. “And I think this tax cut is one of those items that would be too good to be true.
We’re mostly average people and if it’s going to benefit the wealthy the most, I don’t think it’s fair to the average person.”
Greg Wolf moved to West Virginia from California to be closer to his oldest daughter. He likes the tax plan the governor is selling, he said.
“I sympathize with the teachers. All teachers are underpaid,” Wolf told the governor. “I looked thoroughly at what you were going in this state versus going to Tennessee, and I chose your line of action.”
The governor said he’s not giving up on his tax plan to bring more people to the state.
“It’s got the greatest seasons on the planet, it’s got great, great people,” he said of West Virginians. “The people of West Virginian are appreciative, loving, low crime. And without any doubt, it will grow population in West Virginia.”