By Mannix Porterfield
Although he has been heartily backed by the National Rifle Association since his first wade into political combat, Gov. Joe Manchin vetoed two of the group’s bills Friday — one of them a proposed sales tax holiday on the purchase of firearms and ammunition.
Manchin also crushed an NRA measure known as the “Michael Bloomberg” bill, tailored to punish out-of-state undercover agents who entice West Virginia gun owners to illegally sell firearms.
Except in this matter, the veto was purely for technical reasons.
True to his ideology of opposing breaks for specific residents of the state, rather than the broad-based cuts he favors, Manchin refused to approve the planned October sales tax holiday for hunters and other gun owners.
“Like most West Virginians, I am a proud supporter of the Second Amendment,” Manchin said in his veto message.
“We recognize the impact and importance of shooting sports and hunting to our state.”
But the governor said he spoke with NRA leaders and “they understand that this is not a piece of legislation I intend to sign.”
Manchin pointed to a potential revenue loss of $25,000 in direct sales tax, and more importantly, the possible loss of up to $3 million annually in money if the state violates the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement.
One of the leading supporters of the House bill, Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, was crestfallen when apprised of Manchin’s action.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Perry asked. “I’m dismayed.”
Perry said the legislation enjoyed strong support in both the House and Senate, and potentially could have stimulated sales of firearms and ammo.
“West Virginia is such a state that people appreciate the value and the ability to own guns,” he said. “I’m just dismayed.”
Manchin, however, pointed to the difficult economy, one that already has forced him to make across-the-board cuts in state government.
“... and as governor, I have the responsibility to look down the road and continue to make decisions for our future,” he said.
In short, Manchin said, HB4521 simply doesn’t fit the criteria for “responsible government.”
“I appreciate the NRA’s understanding of our concerns, and I am confident we will continue to have a strong relationship with this organization that represents so many of our residents and their interests in the shooting sports,” he added.
As an intense debate raged in the Senate chamber on the final night of the session, Manchin issued his first hint to The Register-Herald that the bill likely would be dead on arrival when it reached his desk.
Manchin traditionally opposes such special tax cuts. Early on as governor, he declined to carry on the holiday for back-to-school purchases inaugurated by his predecessor, Bob Wise.
Senate Majority Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, strongly endorsed the gun tax holiday, alluding to the long-held tradition of gun ownership and hunting in West Virginia.
Moreover, Chafin suggested the tax holiday would have been a boon for gun dealers operating in West Virginia’s border counties.
But Sen. Jesse Guills, R-Greenbrier, scorned the idea, saying broad-based tax cuts on groceries and gasoline would do far more good to struggling West Virginia consumers.
The NRA bill seeking to punish anyone enticing illegal gun buys in West Virginia to expose them to potential business-killing lawsuits was killed by Manchin with reluctance.
“I am in full support of this legislation,” Manchin said of SB515,
“However, I must veto the bill for technical reasons. There is a faulty cross-reference in the bill that would purportedly penalize violations of an unrelated code section.”
The NRA and Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, had labeled it the “Michael Bloomberg bill,” owing to the New York mayor’s zeal in pressing undercover agents into out-of-state sting operations.
Kessler had explained his intent was to prevent the entrapment of gun dealers in a jurisdictional dispute over firearms.
“We don’t think they have jurisdiction to enforce their gun laws outside the state of New York,” Kessler said earlier.
“What we’re trying to say is, the gun laws in your state can operate within your state, but they’re no good here.”