Decisions

Change is depriving local governments

Tax decisions involving millions of dollars ought to be made by legislators, not unelected heads of West Virginia state agencies. Yet because of discretionary authority granted by lawmakers, it sometimes does not happen that way.

Beleaguered coal companies have pleaded for tax relief during recent years, and they have received some from state Property Tax Division Director Jeff Amburgey, according to published reports.

Mining firms pay property taxes on equipment they use to extract coal. Traditionally, they have been given a discount for machinery idled temporarily. That seems appropriate.

But Amburgey decided the discount should be more than had been applied in the past. That means affected companies will pay less — and local government entities will receive less. In Raleigh County alone, the change could cost public schools about $855,000, it has been reported.

Amburgey insists he was not trying to help coal companies, or deprive local government entities of revenue. But that is the practical effect of his decision.

It appears he has the statutory authority to make such a call. Given the magnitude of his decision, however, legislators should take a look at both it specifically and how much power state agencies have to influence local budgets and state policy.

At every level, government bureaucrats wield enormous power over individuals, families, businesses and organizations. Perhaps it is time for our elected officials to ask whether they have given too much discretion to the executive branch

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