What can you say about West Virginia, well it is the only state in that has ‘West’ in its name; there are several ‘North’ or ‘South’ states but only West Virginia is an ‘west-east’ state, even Virginia doesn’t use the ‘East’ as part of its “nom de plume”. West Virginia began the process of statehood when some ‘union followers’ in the northwest counties of Virginia wanted to break away from the confederacy during the Civil War. When those counties seceded, they became the only state to be formed by separating from a Confederate state and joining the Union, and so on June 20, 1862 the Union admitted West Virginia as a state. (And no, it is NOT true that the late U.S. Senator Robert Byrd served in the Senate from the moment of statehood until his passing; his combined service in the U.S. House and Senate only equated to 56 years, 320 days.) Today West Virginia is the 41st largest state at 24,230 square miles, and the 38th most populous state at 1,851,000 residents. But recent studies indicate that far more people are moving out of West Virginia than are moving into the state.
This Appalachian state is noted for its mountains and rolling hills, but probably most of all its ‘mining’ industries and ‘labor movements’. Both salt mining and calcium nitrate mining were critical exports to the Union during the Civil War. Later bituminous coal and limestone would be major economic influencers within the state. Coal from West Virginia mines, transported via the rail cars of new railways being constructed would fuel much of America’s industrial revolution in the 2nd half of the 19th century.
By the start of the 20th century huge coal mining operations were providing the resources by which much of the emerging electrical power plants in the U.S. were being fueled.
As coal mining, mining accidents, and mine related diseases began to emerge, concerns began to arise and labor movements focusing on miner working conditions, wages and safety all challenged the economic considerations of coal as a power source. West Virginia still is a major supplier of coal, and for its own power needs, more than 95% of the state electrical supply comes from coal. But coal exports have begun decline year after year since 2013 as environmental regulatory actions to reduce the use of coal in power generation have increased.
Logging is another economic driver in West Virginia, there is an abundance of Oak, Cherry, Maple, Poplar and Pine, many of which were historically harvested for furniture making; however, as U.S. furniture production has given way to oversees imports, the beneficial use of such woods has also declined in the state and our country as a whole.
As you might expect based upon the geography of the state, much of West Virginia is rural, in fact the state’s four largest cities all range in population from 30,000 to 50,000 thousand. Charleston, the state capital is the largest city with just over 50,000; Huntington, Morgantown and Parkersburg are the three remaining largest cities in the state.
One man’s commitment to his home state is exemplified in the wealth of publically funded projects which string out across the small state. During his tenue in the U.S. Congress and Senate, Robert Byrd oversaw the funding of a multitude of improvement projects for his home state including airports, railroads, river projects, arterial highways, bridges and public educational facilities. Essentially every major city in West Virginia, regardless of size is served by commercial air travel, several of the major cities have public transit systems; West Virginia University in Morgantown even has a single-rail people-mover system. No less than 6 interstate highways crisscross West Virginia carrying hundreds-of-thousands of vehicles every day through the state. While the number of railways has declined in recent years, as the number of highways has increased, West Virginia still has one of the most prolific railroad networks of any state. But probably none of the public projects is more indicative of this one politician’s state influence than the New River Gorge Bridge, which at the time of its construction was the longest steel single-arch bridge in the world. Critics of Byrd continually harped on these ‘pork barrel spending’ projects, but Byrd argued that the major federal projects he brought to West Virginia were simply to bring progress for the people of his state.
West Virginia Factoids:
- Considered the southernmost Northern state and the northernmost Southern state. Also has the highest average altitude of any state east of the Mississippi.
- Has the oldest population of all the states (median age is 40) and the lowest crime rate in the country.
- Famous folks who hail from West Virginia include author Pearl Buck, TV host Peter Marshall, actor Don Knotts, gymnast Mary Lou Retton, and U.S. Senator Robert Byrd.
- Three-fourths of the state (~75%) is covered by forestland.
- The New River Gorge Bridge is the longest steel arch bridge (1700 feet) in the world and the second highest in the U.S. Every year in October the state hosts Bridge Day in which people parachute and bungee cord jump off the bridge (876 feet down). The annual event draws a crowd of around 100,000.
- 15% of the nation’s coal comes from West Virginia. Coal House, located in White Sulpher Springs is the only residence in the world built entirely of coal.
- The first state in the U.S. to have sales tax, which went into effect July 1, 1921.
About Sales Tax and this Series:
Thanks to Avalara, the 'tax people', this article is one in a 50 part series covering sales tax issues associated with each and every state tax jurisdiction in the United States. We have been publishing a "Sales Tax Tuesday" article every week this year.
Sales tax provides critical revenue for states as well as many counties and cities. Other than property and income tax, sales tax is the largest source of tax revenue in the majority of the 46 states that collect it. From a government perspective, making sure every sales tax dollar is collected, through audits, fines, penalties rates and rules, is an exercise for income. It’s easy to be lured into a false sense of compliance when it comes to sales tax, this series is intended to insure that you are aware of the key sales tax facts for YOUR state.
Note: For sales tax definitions and essentials check out the opening article to this series.
Sales Tax Facts:
- West Virginia’s state sales tax rate is 6%, but can be as high as 7% with local taxes (16 municipalities levy a local sales tax on top of the state rate).
- The first state in the U.S. to enact sales tax, passing legislation that went into effect July 1, 1921.
- Sales tax in West Virginia is imposed on the retail sale or lease of tangible personal property and a number of services.
- West Virginia is a destination sourcing state. This means that sales tax is based on the location of the buyer, not the seller.
- West Virginia is a Streamlined Sales Tax (SST) member state. The state does not offer any sales tax holidays.
- West Virginia used to tax food at the 6% sales tax rate. Beginning in 2005, the state gradually reduced the tax rate down to 1% and, in 2013, eliminated the tax altogether. The exemption applies only to food that is to be prepared at home. Prepared foods, food from vending machines and soft drinks are still taxable sales.
Did You Know?
Sparking controversy? Fourth of July revelers have to pay extra to put the sparkle in their celebration om West Virginia. The state charged an extra annual tax on the sale of sparklers, glowworms, party poppers, snappers, and similar “sparkling devices which emit showers of sparks.” The tax is on the seller, but is typically passed on to the buyer. Just don’t take your exuberance too far. While these low-key dazzlers are allowed, the more explosive types of fireworks are banned in West Virginia.
Manual sales and use tax management is prone to error and consumes staff time in pass-through rather than revenue-generating activities. Avalara provides solutions for sales tax automation, including tax calculation, exemption certificate management, returns processing and 1099 filing and reporting. Automation via AvaTax allows businesses to be fully sales tax compliant without sacrificing productivity.