By Rev. Bradley G. Davis
The Welch Charge
of the United Methodist Church
Last week during his State of the State Address Gov. Justice again made it a priority to cut West Virginia’s personal income tax by 50 percent over the next three years, something he has championed in previous sessions but has yet to get over the finish line in the halls of the Capitol. On the surface, such a proposal sounds great. I mean, who doesn’t want extra cash in their pockets, right? Who doesn’t want a tax break?
However, it’s worth noting some of the proposals on the table to fill the massive hole such a reduction would blow in the state budget. Among these are raising the state sales tax from its current six percent to eight percent and possibly even higher, as well as expanding it to include certain services and “luxury goods” currently not taxed, reinstating the state food tax, and a five to 10 percent across the board funding cut to public and higher education, as well as to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
In essence, Peter would be robbed to pay Paul. And an already-struggling Peter at that.
What all those initiatives add up to is this; the most impoverished of our neighbors will be forced to struggle to survive even more than they are currently. And this bad news is compounded by current inflation woes causing price increases on food and just about every other purchase item one can think of.
Here in McDowell County one in three of our residents are mired in poverty. A huge percentage of our children are going hungry, and many others need vital social services provided by the DHHR. Our education system is struggling and doing its very best to stay afloat. To implement the above-mentioned means to provide for a state income tax reduction would only further devastate our already-devastated county that’s been forgotten by those in power and our people who’ve been cast aside and left behind.
A predominant theme found throughout the Holy Scriptures is that those entrusted with power are to implement policies which ensure the most economically and socially vulnerable among us will be cared for, not disregarded and discarded to fend for themselves. The common good is prioritized over individual gain.
Therefore, any legislation that not only fails to do so, but in fact widens economic disparity is nothing short of sin and is antithetical to what we believe as people of faith. The Bible tells us that “there should be no poor” among us because we have the means to eliminate poverty through compassionate public policy (Deuteronomy 15:4).
I would hope that McDowell County’s representatives in Charleston, public servants entrusted with improving the quality of life for those who elected them and are themselves people of faith, would take this Biblical mandate to heart and exert the political will and with moral imperative lay partisan politics aside to do what’s right for the most vulnerable among us. They, we, all of us, must oppose the reduction of the state personal income tax. In this moment, that’s how we fulfill Jesus’s command to us to love our neighbors as ourselves.