Local leaders are disappointed about the death of a bill that would have given coal-producing counties a greater share of coal severance taxes, but there are hopes that it can be revived and passed by a future legislative session.

House Bill 2912 would have taken the first 5 percent of coal severance tax proceeds that now go into the state’s general revenue account and distribute them among the 30 coal counties in 1 percent portions during a five-year period. Supporters estimated that it would have brought $20 million to the counties during that period.

However, the bill died March 12 when House and Senate conferees in Charleston could not reach an agreement about how the money collected from the tax would be handled on the county level, according to The Register-Herald. Senators wanted a stipulation that the extra money in specified projects get approval from the state Development Office. Delegates felt this was too stringent. Neither side would compromise.

“We wanted to tighten up the requirements,” Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone told The Register-Herald.

House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, said that he and others believed that meant county commissions could not be trusted to use the money.

Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, said tight controls are to prevent abuses.

“They’ll be hiring people and doing all kinds of crazy stuff,” Browning told The Register Herald.

Local lawmakers said that the bill could be reintroduced during a future legislative session.

Delegate John R. Frazier, D-Mercer, said he was disappointed by the bill’s death this year, but this was not the end of the idea.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it that the matter will be reintroduced and will be passed sometime in the near future,” he said.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he also hoped coal mining counties would see more tax revenue from the product they produce.

“I was in favor of it,” Ellington said of the bill. “I felt that the ones producing it should get the money back.”

Ellington added that the coal-producing counties should get the money all at once. He believed that bill could be brought up during a future session.

“I would say yes. If it comes up again, maybe we can push it further,” he said.

Coal producing counties could use the tax funds in a variety of ways. Mercer County, for example, may lose more than $100,000 in real estate and property taxes next year due to the recent closing of the Flower Baking Co. facility near Bluefield.

Joe Coburn, president of the Mercer County Commission, said the coal severance funds could have been used to help pay the bill generated by keeping inmates at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

“The jail bill, repairs we don’t have the money for. There’s just a whole conglomeration of things we could have used it for,” Coburn said.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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