Garrett Ballengee: Legislators have a chance to reverse the status quo (Daily Mail)
(Published May 4, 2017 at Daily Mail: Legislators have a chance to reverse the status quo)
Opportunity, like many things in life, is a fleeting thing — here one moment and gone the next, ready to benefit those with the foresight and bravery to seize upon it.
The West Virginia Legislature forfeited a golden opportunity during this year’s regular legislative session. But now, the special session may give the state an opportunity for redemption.
West Virginia can become the 10th state — and the first among its neighbors — with no income tax.
Ridding the state’s citizens of the income tax gives West Virginia the chance to finally confront and overcome its largest obstacle: reputation.
While factors such as tax burden, regulatory environment and climate all play an important role in a state’s economic development, reputation is also a major component. The way in which prospective companies, job-creators and families view a state influences whether they will consider moving to that state.
Sadly, West Virginia’s reputation as a backward, provincial state still bedevils the state’s chances at economic development.
Labor and regulatory reforms have brought us a step forward in changing those attitudes and have given the state real momentum toward creating a friendly business environment. (Although excrement-laden budget veto announcements by the state’s top elected official don’t do us any favors.)
That is why the lost opportunity to repeal the income tax during the regular session stung so acutely.
West Virginia had the chance to put itself at the forefront of growth-enhancing policy. The state could have finally demonstrated to the nation and to job-creators that it is sincere and steadfast about making a pro-prosperity, pro-entrepreneurship and pro-growth turn — even during a budget crunch.
But it was not to be during the regular session.
Instead, West Virginia retreated into the warm, smothering arms of the status quo. Yet again, the conversation moved from the best way to incentivize growth and entrepreneurship, to how — and on whom — we can raise taxes in the most politically-expedient way.
If West Virginia wishes to be taken seriously, this type of reflexive reaction toward ever-growing government must not continue. Change is difficult, especially one as major and impactful as eliminating an income tax.
Yet it can be done in a way that minimizes the transition costs.
When considering any major type of reform, West Virginians and their elected officials must ask themselves the following question: “What is it, exactly, that we are trying to protect?”
Things aren’t great here, and they haven’t been great in any living person’s memory — only variations of not quite as bad.
One of the problems with a perpetually-bad economy is that it promotes of type of thinking that is dangerous and short-sighted: fixed-pie thinking.
To quote Nobel laureate and economist Milton Friedman: “Most economic fallacies derive from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.”
Luckily, fixed-pie thinking simply isn’t true.
West Virginia can grow. West Virginia can become a better, more prosperous version of itself. West Virginians can have a bigger piece of pie, not because someone else’s piece got smaller, but because the entire pie grew.
The repeal of the income tax remains a great way to start down that path. If West Virginia’s lawmakers want to move the state in a positive direction, then they should take full advantage of the opportunity in the special legislative session.
West Virginia’s political leadership should no longer be comfortable with the status quo — a status quo that has made our state a national laughingstock and a late-night punchline.
Yet, many fight to keep the status quo even as West Virginians clearly demonstrate — by the thousands last year — that they’re willing to embrace change and move hundreds of miles away from ancestral homelands for an opportunity at a better life.
At the end of the day, the inability to repeal the income tax during the regular session was just a symptom. A symptom of the “way things have always been done.”
Unless this thinking changes, I think an old aphorism is a great crystal ball for our beautiful state: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”
What a shame that would be. While you are in special session lawmakers, act boldly. Don’t just lower the income tax — repeal it!
Garrett Ballengee is the executive director of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.