(Please note: Research for this piece came from Herman Guy Kump: A Political Profile by Albert Steven Gatrell. Governor Kump’s granddaughter gave me the book.)
It is beginning to sounds like our State is facing issues in 2017 similar to 1933. Today one can read in various publications that West Virginia is near a depression. Governor Justice certainly made it sound like that in his recent State of State address.
I can recall on more than one occasion Governor Underwood (Cecil H) telling me had it not been for Governor Kump (Herman Guy) West Virginia may not have made it through the depression. I never questioned Cecil but decided now was a good time to look into what Governor Kump faced and how he “saved the state.”
In 1932 West Virginia voters in passed a Tax Limitation Amendment to the State constitution. It was to bring relief to people losing their farms or homes to tax sales. It placed maximum tax rates on real property and various other taxable items. This effectively reduced the role of local governments by limiting their taxation authority. At the time local governments were responsible for public schools, roads, etc.
Governor Kump, not unlike Governor Justice, found declining revenue and money to run State government lacking. The State was nearing bankruptcy. However, Governor Kump had the support of businessmen, legislative leaders of both parties and the state’s lawyers. That does not appear to be the case for Governor Justice.
Kump, a Democrat had only a few Democratic members of either House who were experienced legislators. Only a handful was serving a third consecutive term in the House, while only three Democratic senators were serving a second term. Sound familiar Governor Justice?
Kump who only had taken office in March 1933 called an Extraordinary Session of the Legislature in April. He explained that Extraordinary Session was imperative because “Our industries, trade and commerce are facing ruin. Our public institutions are closing. Our State is in financial distress.”
Among the other issues of the time Kump had to address funds for schools and roads since the Tax Limitation Amendment had put a limit on local taxation authority. To do so the State took over local roads and had to provide aid to schools. This brought about the consumer’s sales tax and an income tax.
Governor Kump told the lawmakers to forget politics and remember why the people elected them. He later called on the people to contact their representatives. Today Governor Justice is using 21st century communication tools appealing for “the peoples support.”
The Legislature gave Governor Kump powers to reduce salaries, reorganize departments and bureaus, and dismiss staff. Kump did dismiss staff and reorganized departments (or eliminated them) for economic reasons and he ordered a reduction in pay for state employees. Generally, the pay reductions were about 25 percent.
These sound about like Governor Justice’s Alternative Budget which cuts spending by $450 million and would eliminate general revenue funding for state colleges and universities, as well as 21 programs and terminates 3,000 state jobs.
Most of Governor Kump’s revenue bill was adopted. It raised funds to provide essential public services and new revenue to aid local schools and local roads. It replaced revenue lost from old gross sales tax. Industrial and commercial organizations would return to the State that they saved under the Tax Limitation Amendment; retail sales tax and an income tax were imposed; assessed valuations would be reduced if possible.
The fate of Governor Justice’s revenue bill is in the hands of the Legislature and will see how that works out.
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