The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

October 31, 2012

Constitutional amendment vital, Scout leader says

CHARLESTON — An attorney and leader of the Boy Scouts of America is taking exception to a Marshall University professor’s belief that an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution isn’t needed to extend its tax-exempt status to entities not engaged in charities.

Steve McGowan, a past chairman, president and vice president of the Buckskin Council of the Scouts, says his research indicates that voters indeed must give a green light before The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County can lease all or part of its property to third parties for non-charitable outcomes.

“We would like for this to get fair consideration by the Legislature,” the Charleston attorney said Thursday.

“We’re hoping that that will happen in this upcoming session.”

The idea breezed through the Senate last winter without dissent but ran into a snag in the House of Delegates, where it remained bottled in a committee until the gavels fell on the final night of the session.

Earlier this month, Dr. Calvin Kent, a professor at the Marshall College of Business and director of the BB&T Center for the Advancement of American Capitalism, said lawmakers themselves can extend the tax-exempt status of the sprawling complex without putting the issue on any ballot.

“You already have clear legislative authority to do this,” Kent told a legislative Finance subcommittee studying the proposed amendment.

McGowan, an attorney with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, said he appreciated Kent’s efforts to clear up some areas of state law in regard to how tax exemptions are allowed by county assessors.

But the attorney said his research has shown that an amendment is in order.

Daniel Forinash, public information officer for the Department of Tax and Revenue, said his agency typically doesn’t get involved in policy questions before the Legislature.

In the past legislative session, he said, the department indicated that an amendment could resolve the issue.

“We recognize the Boy Scouts organization is an economic driver for this state,” Forinash said.

“The state has welcomed its efforts. The Tax Department typically doesn’t take a stance on legislative issues, but it often supplies information such as fiscal notes to lawmakers when it’s required.”

The issue lies with an interims committee for now, one that recently toured the Glen Jean facility.

“Whether it’s by constitutional amendment or by some other means, we’re confident the Boy Scouts of America will be a success story for West Virginia,” Forinash said.

By the House’s inability to act on the Senate measure, the issue failed to get a place on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The next election on the horizon is the May primary in 2014.

“That’s all right,” McGowan said.

“We won’t be in a position to lease this out to anybody until well after 2014. There’s no urgency insofar as our needing to have it available by 2014. We’ll be involved in vertical construction probably through 2016 or 2017. So, this is something that’s a long-term look forward on the part of the public to make this decision. So, the urgency is not the consideration. The issue is the consideration.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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