Manchin’s Corporate Tax Hike Will Stick West Virginians with Higher Utility Bills

If Manchin gets his way on a corporate income tax rate increase, he will have to explain why he just increased West Virginians’ utility bills

If Sen. Joe Manchin gets his way and hikes the corporate income tax rate, West Virginia households and businesses will get stuck with higher utility bills as the country tries to recover from the pandemic.

According to a document published by Politico today, Manchin wants to raise the federal corporate income tax rate to 25% which would impose a combined federal-state rate of 29.9% on West Virginia businesses.

Manchin would stick his own state’s businesses with a higher combined tax rate than China’s 25% and the European average of 19%.

The cost of this corporate tax rate hike will be directly built into utility rates.

Electric, gas, and water companies must get their billing rates approved by the respective state utility commissions. When the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cut the corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, utility companies worked with state officials to pass along the tax savings to customers, including at least three West Virginia utilities.

The savings typically come in the form of a rate reduction, a bill credit, or a reduction to an existing or planned rate increase. 

According to a report published in the trade publication Utility Dive, customers nationwide were to receive a $90 billion utility benefit from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act:

Estimates derived from 2017 annual SEC 10-K filings indicate that the 14-percentage-point reduction in the corporate tax rate enacted under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) resulted in investor-owned utilities establishing significant regulatory liability balances, totaling approximately $90 billion to be refunded back to customers.

Americans for Tax Reform has compiled a 90-second nationwide utility savings video from local news reports which may be viewed here.

If Manchin and the Democrats now impose a corporate income tax rate increase, they will have to reckon with unhappy constituents and local news coverage noting utility bills are going up. A vote for a corporate income tax hike is a vote for higher utility bills as households try to recover from the pandemic.

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Impact: Working with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, Appalachian Power Company, Potomac Edison and West Virginia American Water passed their tax savings along to their customers. 

Potomac Edison: As noted in this August 24, 2018 Herald-Mail excerpt:

‘More than 85,000 Potomac Edison customers in the Eastern Panhandle should see lower bills in the coming weeks thanks to federal tax reforms adopted in December.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission announced Friday that it approved rate reduction settlements for utility companies totaling almost $85 million annually, starting next month.

Appalachian Power Company: As Noted in a May 30, 2018 MetroNews article excerpt:

Appalachian Power Company saved $235 million dollars from the federal tax cuts and the company is proposing passing the money back to its customers in a variety of ways.

The multi-pronged proposal is in a filing with the state Public Service Commission due Wednesday. The PSC is requiring all utilities to tell it their tax cut savings and what they plan to do with it.

West Virginia Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts told MetroNews the money clearly belongs to the customers.

“They (the utilities) had taxes in their rates and now the taxes in their rates have significantly decreased—so they shouldn’t be able to keep collecting and keeping those higher taxes in their rates,” Roberts said.

Appalachian Power Company Communications Director Jeri Matheney agrees–the $235 million Appalachian Power will save belongs to its customers.

“It is customer money. What we propose to do is provide a method to keep rates as stable as possible over the longterm and as much as possible eliminate the need for rate increases,” Matheney said.

The Appalachian Power distribution proposal for West Virginia customers includes:

–$131 million to completely offset the company’s fuel and vegetation control program funding request that was part of an April filing with the PSC

–$19 million reduction in the company’s base rate case filed earlier this month (taking the $115 million request down to $96 million)

–$51 million to reduce next year’s fuel recovery cost rate case

–$1 million for a pilot economic development grant program

West Virginia American Water: As noted in this August 21, 2018 Bluefield Daily Telegraph excerpt:

West Virginia American Water Company announced a settlement plan last week which — if approved by the PSC — would result in an average savings of $3.77 a month for water and sewer customers in the state.

“The recent federal tax reform will save our customers an estimated $4.6 million annually, so we are passing these savings on to our customers beginning next month,” Brian Bruce, president of West Virginia American Water.

Conversely, if Manchin and the Democrats raise the corporate tax rate, they will add to the burden faced by working families. And many small businesses operate on tight margins and can’t afford higher heating, cooling, gas, and refrigeration costs.

Besides, when Manchin asked West Virginians to send him to Washington, he said:

“I can’t look the people in West Virginia in the eye and ask them to pay a penny more until I know we’re running this government efficiently.”

Back then he also said any tax increases should be avoided during a recession, which is germane to our current attempt to recover from a devastating, once-in-a-century pandemic:

“I don’t think during a time of recession you mess with any of the taxes.”

What happened, Senator?