A bill to establish an intermediate court of appeals in West Virginia seems likely to pass the Legislature and then head to Gov. Jim Justice for a signature.
Republicans controlling the Legislature have been trying to establish the court for five consecutive years now, but there was always enough bipartisan opposition to keep it from happening. That was before the GOP had supermajorities in the House and Senate.
As we’ve said before, the appeals court is completely unnecessary in a state of only 1.7 million people, especially with the number of appeals and the West Virginia Supreme Court’s caseload continually dropping. The intermediate court is just a way for big businesses and corporate interests to stall out and financially wreck civil plaintiffs, or intimidate people wronged by such interests from even pursuing a case.
It also will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars to operate and maintain. In fact, it’s estimated that the court will need $5.7 million annually in operational costs, including paying each judge on a three-judge panel a yearly $142,500 salary.
The concept makes neither legal nor financial sense, but that hasn’t stopped the legislative supermajority this session.
The cost raises another question, though. The Senate is now mulling a House bill to repeal the state income tax. It could stick with the House plan of reducing the tax by $150 million each year, amend the bill to fit more with Gov. Jim Justice’s plan of cutting the income tax by 60% in the first year, and then eventually repealing it, or go with its own bill.
The Legislature also has passed a broad school voucher program that will dole out public money to West Virginians who want to place their children in private schools or home school them.
The Legislature wants to cut state revenue in the form of tax breaks, but wants to add services like vouchers and an intermediate court. Where is the money for a new layer of judicial government going to come from? Justice’s income tax reduction plan makes up for only some of the lost revenue, and it does so through massive tax hikes elsewhere. The House bill doesn’t include any new sources of revenue.
Repealing the income tax is a big enough gamble that, while helping the wealthy, will have middle-income and poorer West Virginians paying an unfair share of the tax burden, and will reduce state funds. Adding more operations to the state is a sure way to bankrupt West Virginia.
The only way to avoid sinking would be to make massive cuts elsewhere, which will further hurt quality of life in a state that has been losing population for seven decades. And even that is no guarantee that the money needed to run essential services in West Virginia won’t bottom out.