By Greg Jordan
For The Register-Herald
A bill that would allow West Virginia’s municipalities and counties to levy a tax on food and beverages prepared in restaurants has been reintroduced in the Legislature.
House Bill 2993, introduced by Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, would allow counties and municipalities to have a sales tax on food and beverages sold at restaurants. Counties would be allowed to levy a tax not exceeding three percent of the gross amount charged for the food and beverages. Municipalities would be limited to a two percent sales tax, according to the text of the proposed bill.
Shott was unavailable for comment Monday. He introduced the bill in March 2013 last year.
The bill outlines how counties and municipalities could implement the tax. At least 60 percent of the voters in a city or county would have to approve such taxes before they could be passed, according to the bill.
“I was a co-sponsor last year,” said Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer. “I am willing to be supportive of that bill as long as it requires a super-majority of the electorate for it to pass.”
Gearheart added he did not co-sponsor the bill this year because he feared the 60 percent requirement for the vote would be amended out.
Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he was co-sponsoring the bill this year.
“It just gives them the option to raise that tax,” he said.
The bill includes exemptions to the food and beverage tax, according to the bill. Vending machines, restaurants operating on a not-for-profit basis, churches serving meals as a part of regular religious observance, fundraising organizations, food counters or delicatessens that operate as part of a larger retail business, and other exemptions would be included.
The sales tax on meals and beverages prepared at restaurants could raise useful amounts of money, said Janet Bailey, executive director of the Development Authority of Mercer County.
“Oh, absolutely. It would provide moneys for the Economic Development Authority,” Bailey said.
The funds could be used to help local businesses with programs such as small business loans, and helping Mercer County pay off its bill to the state’s regional jail system, she said.
— Jordan is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph