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Gee defends income tax cut amid backlash

Decision could result in slashed WVU funding, end of PROMISE scholarship

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Gordon Gee 3/3/20

WVU President E. Gordon Gee.

During Monday’s faculty senate meeting, it was reported that West Virginia University president E. Gordon Gee said he was in favor of cutting the state’s income tax — approximately 43% of the state of West Virginia’s budget for the 2021 fiscal year according to the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. 

In a request for clarification, WVU spokesperson April Kaull told The DA on Wednesday that “there has not been enough information on any particular proposal to have an opinion.”

“Regarding the discussion on the proposed legislation of eliminating the personal income tax,” Kaull wrote in an email, “Gee acknowledges there is support among West Virginia legislators regarding this issue but that there are many factors to consider and that it is not something that can be implemented immediately or without careful thought and planning.”

Kaull also said that Gee’s personal experiences of serving as chancellor of Vanderbilt University from 2000-07 played a role in his comment as he was able to experience similar effects firsthand. 

“Gee adds having lived in Tennessee, where there is no income tax, it was a benefit to economic growth and development,” Kaull wrote. “He agrees that long term, it could be successful; but not without substituting other potential taxes or other sources of revenue and looking at the overall tax structure. The State needs to carefully analyze the investments it needs to make in education, healthcare, infrastructure and a host of other needs when considering any tax reduction. The University is prepared to assist legislators as needed as they review this topic.”

Kaull later added, “To be clear, he supports measures that would build a stronger West Virginia and stronger educational system.”

Del. Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock, 01) introduced a bill to abolish the personal income tax on Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session. Known as H.B. 2211, it has been sent to the House of Delegates' Finance Committee for consideration.

The elimination of the projected $2.1 billion provided to the state’s budget via the income tax would require making up the funds in other areas, and the potential ramifications of such a move are expected to be felt on campus.

Earlier this month, Kyle Vass of Dragline reported on an email sent by West Virginia House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson, 66) to fellow Republican lawmakers in the statehouse. The email featured a survey that asked delegates to indicate their support for a variety of proposed ideas regarding the state’s budget and taxes.

Among those ideas to cut costs was the elimination of the PROMISE scholarship, as well as a reduction in funding to the state’s colleges and universities, in order to balance the budget.

The PROMISE scholarship, a merit-based financial aid program for West Virginia high school students, provides annual awards of up to $4,750 for use at public and independent higher education institutions throughout the state. More than 13,000 students at WVU hail from in state.

In regard to state-obtained funds, West Virginia University received a total of $183,261,000 in state appropriations for the 2021 fiscal year, accounting for nearly 17% of the University’s budget. 

The West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy estimates that the elimination of the PROMISE scholarship, as well as a 30% cut to institutions of higher education and the Higher Education Policy Commission, would total a savings of approximately $135 million.

Scott Crichlow, an associate professor of political science at WVU, says that Gee’s comment came as a bit of a shock to those at the meeting.

“The income tax comment, I think, took everybody by surprise,” Crichlow told The DA. “We hadn't heard anything about him deciding to kind of publicly backup the governor. I mean, he did sort of say, in the longer term, and the follow up press from the University office suggests that he's not committing to any specific proposal. But he did clearly state that he supports the general concept and thinks it's been a good idea.”

Crichlow is one of 20 members of the Faculty Senate from the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences, and is one of 16 faculty members in the political science department. He is also teaching courses on-campus this semester.

Based on his day-to-day interactions with members of the West Virginia University community, Crichlow says that many are concerned about the potential ramification of such a move.

“A lot of faculty and staff and students are very troubled by that, in terms of the likelihood that that would lead to significant cuts to the PROMISE scholarships and the cuts to education, generally speaking,” Crichlow said.

Crichlow, who posted a tweet on Tuesday about Gee’s comments, received countless replies against the tax’s termination from students, faculty, alums and more. Responses ranged from specific questions to general confusion.

“If we're already feeling nervous about the future,” Crichlow said, “I don't think that really helps do anything but make those worries worse.”

The Daily Athenaeum logo WVU's Independent Student Newspaper