Since last week, there has been a slow trickle of discussion in various West Virginia media outlets about remarks made by Greg Babe, the president and CEO of Bayer, in a speech in Charleston.
Babe is a West Virginia native who will soon retire as the leader of Bayer's American operations. The topic of Babe's Charleston speech, comprehensive tax reform, deserves more attention than it has received.
West Virginia has missed out on a generation of prosperity thanks to our outdated and uncompetitive tax code. On the campaign trail for the last year, I have talked often about the need for real tax reform in West Virginia. As I've traveled around our state, I've heard from business owners of all sizes, from small mom-and-pop stores to large manufacturers, that, "We need tax reform. If we had it, we could create more jobs."
Businesses of all sizes in West Virginia need help but they aren't looking for special deals and handouts, they're looking for a level playing field.
The career politicians in Charleston have a habit of picking winners and losers, often based on who has the best lobbyist. If you're a big company and you want to come here, you can hire a lobbyist and get a great deal. Examples like Gestamp and Macy's are found throughout the state.
But I think back to where I was almost 30 years ago when my partner and I started our business in a shop with a dirt floor. We didn't get any special deals. We worked hard and we succeeded because we took risks.
There are some people who think there's something wrong with that. But there's nothing wrong with that. Working hard and being successful is what America is all about!
Earlier this year we lost out on the much-touted "cracker" plant, even though the Legislature passed a major incentive package. Instead, the cracker went to Pennsylvania, whose tax, legal, and regulatory environments were more competitive than West Virginia's. Pennsylvania will get the billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs. Losing the cracker should have been a wake-up call to the career politicians in Charleston that it's time to reform our tax system, clean up our courts and eliminate wasteful bureaucracies.
Fewer people work in West Virginia than in any other state in the country. Our state is ranked last in legal fairness and the current leadership in Charleston has already squandered the budget surpluses created by the most recent energy boom. When all of this is added to an unfair tax system, it is clear why more jobs are not created in West Virginia.
We need to reduce or eliminate taxes that inhibit investment and job creation, like the business franchise tax and severance tax. We should eliminate the inventory tax and the food tax, which is a huge burden on our low-income families and seniors. To spur new construction and investment, let's create a five-year moratorium on personal property taxes for new equipment. These are all some simple fixes that would benefit job-creators and workers here in the Mountain State.
Mr. Babe was right on the mark: If we don't reform our tax structure, we will continue to lose out to our neighbors on economic development. Unfortunately, the career politicians who have run state government for the last 30 years have no incentive to change the system.
It's time for new leadership in West Virginia that can make the changes we need to bring jobs back to our state.
EDITOR's NOTE: Bill Maloney is a Morgantown businessman and the Republican candidate for governor in the November election.