This session, the State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 298, which amends the state’s current blue law by allowing restaurants, private clubs, and wineries to begin selling alcohol at 10:00 AM on Sundays, three hours before the current earliest time allowed, 1:00 PM. More commonly referred to as the “Brunch Bill,” this bill has support from both sides in the Senate and in the House.
While alcohol consumption itself is not may not be a priority for West Virginia, the state of our economy is. As much as this is a “drinking” bill, it is just as much a jobs bill. Think about it: on a Sunday, restaurants can begin alcohol sales at 10:00 AM, meaning more patrons; the fact that they can sell alcohol means more revenue for the restaurants; by earning more revenue, they will be able to hire more staff, meaning more employment and a higher Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the state.
However, it seems that leadership in the House does not see the importance of the bill. House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) has stated to the media that this bill will not be a priority for his chamber. Why not? In 2014, the current majorities in the legislature campaigned on a promise that they could fix the jobs crisis in our state better than the previous majorities had. Well, if that was their campaign promise, then why would they not hold a vote on this bill? The guaranteed benefits of this bill becoming law are spelled out in the paragraph above. In these final days of legislative session, I would urge the Speaker to reconsider his stance on this bill.
Two weeks ago, Delegate Matt Rohrbach (R-Cabell) introduced House Bill 4645. This bill would create an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) against personal income tax on the state level. Essentially, an EITC rewards those who work but earn wages that are not high enough to fully support their families. Specifically, this bill would allow taxpayers to “credit against the tax imposed… an amount equal to fifteen percent of the credit the taxpayer is allowed to claim as a credit…” (HB 4645).
My colleague here at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, Seth Distefano, has been advocating tirelessly for a state-level EITC this session. In a presentation to the Senate Economic Development Committee on January 20, he explained that the EITC should have bipartisan support for two key reasons.
First, many other states that have state EITCs—18 of 26—fund the tax credits with funds from federal grants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF (Distefano, 2016). This session, leadership in both houses has emphasized a need to cut TANF spending because the money could be put to better use elsewhere. What better use is there for these funds than rewarding West Virginians who work? If we begin using TANF funds to finance an EITC, eventually the need for TANF itself will diminish because everyone will be earning enough to live and support their families.
Plain and simple, an EITC rewards work. A person must be employed to be eligible. In this case, I think that both sides of the aisle win. The majority party in the Legislature will see an increase in employment and a decrease in government assistance; and the minority party will put people back to work through a social program that has proven to be successful in over half of the states.
By Dillon Neace, Spring Research Associate
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