Lawsuit Challenges Occupation/Income Tax Authority of Huntington; Challenges All Home Rule Activities of all Cities

by Tony Rutherford HuntingtonNews.Net Reporter
HUNTINGTON, WV (HNN) - "I’m thankful we had some people who thought it was unconstitutional and decided to take it to court,” said famed activist Tom McCallister near the steps of Huntington City Hall Wednesday afternoon, June 22.

A loud and upbeat crowd gathered at 3:30 p.m. to celebrate the filing of a lawsuit in Kanawha County which challenges the city’s proposed 1% occupation tax that would take effect July 1. The complaint asked for an injunction to prevent collection of the tax, but it also asks that all actions cities have taken with ‘home rule’ powers be declared null and void.

The 25 page complaint has been filed in Kanawha Circuit Court. You can download a PDF of the suit by clicking HERE.  (Or cut and paste the following link: http://media.graytvinc.com/documents/Complaint-County+Commission.)

The suit names the Municipal Home Rule Board and its members (in their official capacities) along with the City of Huntington. It asks for a declaration that the actions of the pilot home rule board, including this occupation tax (called an income tax) be tossed as invalid under the state’s constitution.

A temporary and permanent injunction is sought to prevent the city from collecting the tax pending the litigation of the complaint. A hearing date has yet to be scheduled.

 

Speaking on behalf of Mayor Kim Wolfe and Huntington City Council, Scott McClure, city attorney, said in a prepared statement:

“The City of Huntington has the responsibility to continue to provide services to its residents and those individuals who work here. The Mayor and City Council acted within the authority granted to the City by the West Virginia Legislature. The City has hired Michael J. Farrell and the Huntington law firm of Farrell, White & Legg PLLC to represent it in the litigation that will reportedly be filed in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. We are confident that this litigation will provide a fair and impartial judicial review of the Home Rule legislation and its implementation by the City. As the City has said many times before, the Legislature understood the need for providing a means for the Home Rule Municipalities to produce the additional revenues necessary to provide adequate service to its residents and those individuals who work here. This City needs those additional revenues and it will be aggressive in defending the constitutionality of the statute. For those who use and depend upon the services provided by the City, anything less would be unacceptable. During the pendency of this litigation and any appeal, the City will strive to fulfill each of its municipal responsibilities.”

 

However, by asking those behind the suit --- including members of SEIU District 1199, which represents approximately 1,500 workers at Cabell Huntington Hospital, as well as health care facilities in West Virginia and Kentucky --- it's apparent that city residents represented by the union do not favor the tax reform package.

 

Joyce Gibson, deputy director for the union’s health care based members, explained that all the members of the union’s district local condemn the tax. That includes workers who live inside the city and work inside the city , as well as the most vocal, those who live elsewhere but work inside the city. Those living outside the city have called for economic boycotts and chanted taxation without representation which triggered the war of independence of the United States from Great Britain.

Most of those attending the rally either carried SEIU banners or worked at Steel of West Virginia. Other plaintiffs are the Cabell County Commission, Teamsters Local 505, Cabell Commissioner Bob Bailey, and Tommie L. Kelley Sr.

Commissioner Bailey indicated that he too had received complaints from those workers inside the city (who have a vote to cast in the next election) that oppose the tax. In addition, the Huntington Chamber of Commerce and an association of employees from Marshall University and MoutWest Community College have opposed the tax. At least a portion of those subject to the tax also object to “capping” it at a maximum of $1,250 per year, so that top earners (i.e. over $125,000) do not pay one-percent of their income.


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