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Editorial: Officially killing occupation tax seems the smart thing to do

Dec. 27, 2012 @ 11:40 PM

Just about everyone agrees that a proposed occupation tax in Huntington is dead. It has been held up in court since before it could be implemented in the summer of 2011, and the program under which it was authorized expires within months.

Simply put, there is no way the tax could be imposed at this point.

Steve Williams, elected to become Huntington's mayor on Jan. 1, wants to make sure there is no question about that, however. Williams said last week that one of his first requests as mayor will be to propose an ordinance that would rescind the occupation tax.

That sounds like the proper move, one that would send a message not only to people who work in Huntington but to local employers and lawmakers in Charleston. All three of those groups are important audiences.

The tax proposal was generated as part of Huntington's plan to use home-rule powers granted it and three other cities under a pilot program approved by the West Virginia Legislature in 2007. Other parts of Huntington's home-rule plan -- strategies to get rid of dilapidated structures, implementing a 1 percent sales tax, lowering certain taxes on businesses -- made sense and have benefited the city.

But the occupation tax -- a 1 percent tax on wages and salaries earned on jobs within Huntington -- was met with resistance from the start. The proposed tax was intended to replace the $3-a-week user fee, and for many wage-earners the 1 percent tax would mean a substantial tax increase.

Another consequence was inequities among people who would be required to pay it and those who wouldn't. Other potential fallout included the likelihood of driving some businesses out of Huntington and reducing the take-home pay of many workers at a time when the economy sorely needed their buying power to improve.

There's no question Huntington could make use of the extra revenue the tax was expected to generate, but the occupation tax was not the way to go about it.

Taking the tax officially off Huntington's books would provide some assurances to local businesses and their employees that the tax is not likely to be resurrected. Rescinding the tax ordinance also might be persuasive for state lawmakers, who in the coming months will consider whether the home-rule pilot project should be extended both in duration and to more cities.

Generally, the home-rule experiments initiated by the participating cities have been well received. About the only exception was Huntington's proposed occupation tax, which has been cited by various lawmakers as a drawback to the program.

Part of Williams' reasoning for wanting to kill the tax officially is to let those lawmakers know that it is indeed a dead issue and shouldn't be considered a factor in any extension and expansion of the home-rule program.

The home-rule program has on the whole been a positive for Huntington, and the legislature should move to extend it. If rescinding the occupation tax could help accomplish that, then by all means the City Council should act to do so.

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