Skip Navigation


(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Governor Marland's Political Suicide: The Severance Tax

By Paul F. Lutz

Volume 40, No. 1 (Fall 1978), pp. 13-27

WILLIAM CASEY MARLAND was inaugurated as the twenty-fourth Governor of West Virginia on January 19, 1953, just two months before his thirty-fourth birthday. The forty-minute ceremony took place on a temporary platform erected across the great well in the center of the legislative hallway directly beneath the Capitol dome. The oath of office was administered by West Virginia Supreme Court Judge Frank C. Haymond.

Following the swearing in, Governor Marland, a heavily built man standing six feet in height, delivered a fifteen-minute inaugural address. During the course of the speech, the new governor's two-year old son, John Wesley, bounced gleefully on the knee of platform dignitary John L. Lewis and to the delight of the audience also took several leisurely strolls in front of the speaker's rostrum. According to Mrs. Marland, the Governor had given an explicit order that the toddler not be restrained in his movements during the ceremony.1 The festivities concluded with a musical program by the bands from Pineville, Mullens, and Elkhorn high schools. By the time of Marland's inauguration as governor, West Virginia had begun to feel the effects of a declining economy as evidenced in falling tax returns, increased unemployment in the coal fields, and the beginning of what would be a decade of migration out of the state. Since good times prevailed in the nation as a whole, West Virginians found their economic decline confusing and frustrating.

In his brief inaugural address, Marland spoke deliberately and with restraint. He reviewed the state's problems generally and emphasized the importance of roads and education as the determinants in the future growth of the state. He served notice upon the people and Legislature of West Virginia that more tax money would be needed to meet those problems, and that he would make specific recommendations as to the sources from which more money might be obtained in his upcoming message to the Fifty-first Legislature.

The new governor frankly admitted that while twenty consecutive years of Democratic leadership had been responsible for providing the state progressive government, it had also led to growth without proper planning, which had caused some injurious division and overlapping of departmental responsibility within state government. In light of the above, Marland recommended "a slow, surgical approach to cure the state's financial ills, as opposed to the 'sword approach' of overall cuts in services."2 He declared that during his administration serious attempts would be made to consolidate and streamline state government in order to effect sensible economies. Aside from these rather general remarks, the new Governor said little that would portend the state-wide furor that would arise from his highly controversial tax package to be presented only three days later.

Marland's seemingly innocuous inaugural address elicited similarly innocuous responses from the news media. Even the "loyal opposition," led by the Charleston Daily Mail, chose to draw no political blood, as evidenced in its assertion: "His first appearance, his presence, his remarks were encouraging. Governor Marland is certainly no orator, but he leaves an impression of sobriety and conscientiousness of a man willing to listen and ready to learn."3 (This was a haunting assessment of Marland in light of his later drinking problem and irrepressible stubbornness.) Perhaps a more realistic appraisal of the new Governor was made by Syd Barksdale of the Bluefield Sunset News who wrote: "Personally, we have confidence in the new governor. He is young, it is true, but he is wise in the ways of politics and uncommonly good in grasping the essentials of governmental problems. It remains to be seen how persuasive he can be in dealing with the Legislature and how good he is at getting teamwork from his department heads."4

The moment of truth came for Governor Marland only three days after his January 19 inauguration, when he addressed a joint session of the Fifty-first Legislature. His address began with a lengthy explanation of his budgetary philosophy in which he reiterated his pledge to streamline state government via the "surgical approach" for greater fiscal efficiency. He then proceeded to outline specific plans for the areas of Conservation, Legal Reform, Labor, Probation and Parole, Law Enforcement, Education, and Roads. The last item to be explained was that of additional revenues. Marland announced a three-part tax plan designed to generate $23,250,000. Part One, he declared, would simply require the Legislature to obey the constitutional mandate of the people of West Virginia, as expressed in the passage of the 1948 Secondary Roads Bond Issue, which called for the imposition of a one-cent per gallon increase on gasoline which would realize an estimated four million dollars annually. Such monies, according to Marland, would be automatically diverted to the road fund to reduce to six million dollars the ten million dollars then needed to put the state road program on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. Part Two called for a $1,500,000 increase in the state's share of the parimutuel horse-racing tax which would go for the program of free textbooks in all elementary schools. Before moving on to Part Three of his tax plan, which was to shoulder the bulk of the additional revenues, Marland engaged in a bit of "jawboning" perhaps recognizing the gravity of his next few sentences:

For the bulk of the revenues for this program I would unqualifiedly recommend to you that we turn to that with which West Virginia has been endowed by our Creator, and which once gone is gone forever. I speak, of course, of turning to the natural resources of West Virginia for a severance tax to carry out this program. A severance tax which will bring in an estimated income of approximately $18,000,000 based primarily on the following rates: ten cents per ton on coal, twenty-five cents per barrel of oil, gas one cent per thousand cubic feet, sand and gravel five cents per ton, limestone five cents per ton, along with other natural resources which will be included in the bill presented for your consideration.5

The severance tax proposal came across as something of an "executive bombshell" on the unsuspecting legislature. Reaction to the Governor's tax plan, which bore heavily upon the coal industry, came fast and furious and with it came the end of one of the state's briefest gubernatorial honeymoons on record.

The following two months witnessed a political donnybrook reminiscent of West Virginia's legendary Hatfield and McCoy feud. Battle lines were drawn almost immediately with the Marland "pro-severance tax" group looking quite impressive, at least on paper, with support from the UMW, the West Virginia Federation of Labor, the West Virginia CIO, the West Virginia Education Association, and the state's seven-member Congressional delegation. The principal opponents were spokesmen for the coal industry and their "legislative lackeys," the Republican minority in both houses of the Legislature, the State Chamber of Commerce, and several influential newspapers, such as the Charleston Gazette and Wheeling Intelligencer.

The very next morning following the new Governor's proposal, Frank Knight, the managing editor of the Charleston Gazette, attacked Marland's severance tax as "irresponsible and unthinking," and declared that, "it would destroy the coal industry of West Virginia."6 The new chief executive wasted little time in answering the Gazette editorial. Three days later a lengthy rebuttal was printed in which Governor Marland chastised Knight by insisting that the newspaper's position had not been arrived at in an objective manner and was grossly biased due to the presence on the Gazette editorial board of Carl Andrews, secretary of the West Virginia Coal Operators Association. In point one of his seven-point rebuttal, Marland urged Knight to inform the public of Carl Andrew's direct ties with the coal industry. Knight's contention that the coal industry already contributed a "large part" to the cost of state government was countered in the Governor's second point in which he wrote: "You may or may not know that the nine or ten million dollars paid by the coal industry in gross sales tax is not what most people consider "large" in a government that costs over two-hundred million dollars a year."7 Then, in an apparent attempt to embarrass the coal industry and, by the same token, to incite the tax-paying public, Marland retorted: "You may be interested to know that the citizens of West Virginia are contributing almost three times as much as the coal industry to the cost of government in consumer's sales tax alone."8 Point three demonstrated a typical Marland tactic in which the Governor used Knight's own statistics in a counter-attack, Knight stated that the coal industry paid approximately thirty million dollars in taxes every year, but Marland demonstrated that only one-third of that amount went to state and local governments. The Governor insisted that the state and local share of coal revenues was small since property taxes state-wide were based on valuations as much as 75 per cent below the actual value of their holdings. Finally, Marland announced that any severance tax imposed by the state of West Virginia would become a deduction from the Federal income tax paid by the coal operator. "I should think," Marland wrote stingingly, "that even the coal operators would rather their taxes go to support an improved road and school program for the State from which their wealth is derived rather than to the Federal Government."9

Marland took Knight to task in point four over the editor's contention that other coal-producing states did not have gross sales tax or severance taxes by pointing out that such states did have "corporate income taxes" and that as an example, the state of Louisiana had derived $44,600,000 from a severance tax on natural resources in 1950.

The Governor's fifth point was a brief statement assuaging Knight's real or imagined fear that the Democratic Party would be destroyed if such a severance tax were adopted. "To the contrary," Marland declared, "the Democratic Party will certainly fail in West Virginia unless it acknowledges its primary responsibility to all of its citizens in the matter of roads and schools."10

As to Knight's prediction that the severance tax would presage economic suicide, the Governor countered this fear in point six by noting that the very people whose life blood depended on the coal industry, the UMW, had given their full support to his measure starting with President John L. Lewis. Governor Marland concluded his remarks with a terse evaluation of the entire issue, when he wrote:

The substance of your editorial seems to be the flat statement that we will destroy our coal industry. This has been the constant cry for as long as anyone can remember when anyone dared whisper the words 'severance tax.' This same cry would, I am sure, have been heard fifty years ago had this measure been proposed then as it should have been.

Let's not kid the people of West Virginia. You have left out some facts.11

As a result of the above letter, Governor Marland clearly demonstrated to many citizens that their young Chief Executive was made of sterner stuff than most had suspected. Moreover, the Marland-Knight confrontation served to set the tone for two months of the most caustic political debate ever witnessed in the West Virginia Legislature.

The governor's proposal became Senate Bill Number 32 and was introduced by Senate President Ralph Bean on January 27. Although Mr. Bean lauded what he called, "the many good recommendations of the governor," when questioned by reporters about the severance tax, he responded: "I believe the governor will find many members of this legislature very reluctant to impose the matter."12 In the same vein House of Delegates Speaker William L. Flannery from coal-rich Logan County observed: "I consider the governor's proposal bold and progressive - where to get the money to finance that program, however, is the sixty-four dollar question."13 Bartow Jones, Republican minority leader in the Senate, assailed Marland's proposal by exclaiming: "The Governor must have taken lessons from Mr. Truman, the only solution being to spend more money."14

On January 29, just two days after the severance tax bill was introduced, Consolidation Coal Company President George Higginbotham emerged as a bona fide "prophet of gloom" for the coal industry in an address to the Fairmont Kiwanis Club. "It would be an attempt at economic suicide to put a tax of ten cents per ton on coal and would cause a breakdown in the industry," Higginbotham asserted.15 The coal executive cited two factors which had already contributed to a decrease in coal usage and the loss of 25,000 miners' jobs nationwide since 1950. The most serious threat to the coal industry, Higginbotham explained, was the increased use on the east coast of imported residual oil from South America. The second threat he cited was the completion of the "Big Inch" pipeline that could carry Texas natural gas into West Virginia and other eastern markets. Furthermore, Higginbotham called attention to two side-effects of this oil and natural gas competition. First, the slackened demand for "space-heater" gas from Texas in the summer allowed the industry to dump its surpluses on West Virginia at a low rate for industrial users thus undercutting coal suppliers. Second, he asserted that the state's use of asphalt in the construction of its highways injured the coal industry since the asphalt consisted of a petroleum byproduct; while if concrete were used this would result in the use of one pound of coal for every one pound of steel rods used in highway construction.

Moreover, the Consolidation Coal Company President was quick to observe that one-fourth of the working men of the state were directly employed by the coal industry and that one-half of the people of West Virginia were dependent upon the coal industry for their income. Likewise, one-third of the total income of the state was derived from coal. "The companies could not afford to pay the ten cents proposed tax on a ton of coal," Higginbotham concluded, "since the companies were only making eight cents profit on a ton of coal mined and the proposed tax would put them in the red which would force them to shut down their pits."16 Despite the gloomy prediction above, the coal executive did reveal a sense of hope as he observed: "I am not discouraged with the future of the coal industry, and I believe the industry will take a turn upward within the next five years."17

As the Legislature got into full swing in February, it soon became apparent to Governor Marland and the backers of the severance tax that the bill might die in committee. Senate opposition was led by Senate President Ralph Bean and Senate Finance Chairman Glenn Jackson from Logan County. Marland caucused daily with Senate Democrats in hopes of moving his bill to the floor. The Governor worked closely with Jackson and repeatedly urged him to bring the bill to a vote. Marland insisted that he had thirteen of the eighteen member committee in his camp but Jackson contended that the voters were not there and the hearings continued.

With the severance tax proposal bogged down in committee, Marland went to work calling upon numerous "big name" supporters in hopes of breaking the log jam. Following a secret meeting on February 17 with John L. Lewis at the Greenbrier Hotel, the UMW President sent a letter to each of the 12,000 UMW members in West Virginia urging them to give all-out support to the governor's legislative program, which read in part:

This program is intended to relieve the taxpayers of West Virginia of their present staggering burden of bond interest, and to permit the state to go forward. The coal industry is fairly treated in its proportionate participation in this tax and will not operate to the disadvantage of the coal industry of West Virginia in the nation's coal markets.18

Lewis went on to explain that the ten cents per ton tax could be charged off against the cost of production as a Federal income tax deduction thus reducing for most companies the actual cost to four or five cents per ton. He also asserted that the program was a sound one designed to increase the prosperity of the state and to promote the well-being of its population. Thus, according to the UMW chieftain, when adopted by the Legislature, Governor Marland's proposals would be in the best interests of the coal miner and all the citzens of West Virginia. Then in the strongest language of the letter, he skillfully inserted the miner-absentee landlord dichotomy as he wrote: 'The absentee industrial landlords of West Virginia, who for fifty years have shipped the wealth of the state elsewhere, without proper recompense to its citizens, should not oppose this tax nor program."19 Lewis also called upon the various lobbyists and legislative agents to discontinue "their insidious opposition to Governor Marland's progressive program because in so doing they are standing with the absentee industrial landlords and fighting against the coal miners and other citizens who elected them to office and whom in honor they should serve."20 The UMW President concluded his rather lengthy letter by calling upon each local union to insist upon a clear and unequivocal statement of their legislator's position on the severance tax question.

The week of February 16 proved to be the climax of the joint House-Senate Finance Committees' hearings before packed galleries. The names of those testifying read like a list of "Who's Who" in West Virginia economic and political circles. Before the week was out the committee heard from such dignitaries as Hillis Townsend, State Labor Legislative Committee chairman; Walter Thurmond of the State Coal Operators Association; Raymond E. Salvati, president of Island Creek Coal Company; Ernest K, Jones, Charleston president of the State Chamber of Commerce; H. K. Griffith, State road commissioner; Phares Reeder, executive secretary of the West Virginia Education Association; Congressmen Robert C. Byrd, Cleveland M. Bailey, and Robert M. Mollahan; U. S. Senator Harley Kilgore; William H. Ansel, Jr. state treasurer; UMW District presidents George Titler and William Blizzard; while affidavits from U. S. Senator M. M. Neely and Representatives Harley O. Staggers and Elizabeth Kee were also read into the record.

As a prelude to the final week of hearings and in an apparent attempt to sell his proposal to the public, Governor Marland released a highly detailed communique explaining all the possible ramifications of his severance tax bill. Marland once again denied that his bill would bring ruin to the coal industry of West Virginia and then produced a veritable flood of specific examples to support his argument. "I would be the last person in the world to want to do anything to the coal industry-West Virginia's great basic industry - in the matter of finances," Marland explained.21 He then reiterated the point made previously in John L. Lewis' letter to UMW members that since the proposed state tax could be deducted from federal income taxes the actual cost to the companies would range from "a minimum of 1.8 cents to a maximum of 7 cents per ton, with most companies around 4.8 cents per ton."22

The Governor then proceeded to ask the citizens of West Virginia to examine the gloomy predictions of the coal industry on the basis of three factors:

(1) Figures of net profit per ton after taxes.
(2) Figures showing just what it actually means in cents to these companies to pay West Virginia the ten cents in light of federal income tax requirements and deductions.
(3) Figures showing the depletion allowances that these companies allow themselves.23

Unfortunately for Marland, most West Virginians could not begin to fathom the complex economic and legal questions involved, and his brilliant defense of the severance tax measure fell on deaf ears.

According to the Governor, the State Road Commission was in grave danger of becoming a bankrupt organization because one-third of its gross revenues were needed to service its heavy bonded debt. He insisted that his severance tax would provide necessary funds to cure this problem by putting the State Road Commission on what he labeled a "pay-as-you-go" basis. Furthermore, the severance tax loomed as the much needed panacea for the state's lackluster educational system.

Marland continued to refine his severance tax argument by demonstrating that because of the impact of the federal income tax the actual cost of the proposed tax to a coal company would be seven cents a ton for those earning up to $25,000 per year, 4.8 cents per ton for those earning above $25,000, and only 1.8 cents per ton for those companies in the excess profits bracket.24 The Governor confirmed that most companies in West Virginia fell into the middle group. As for the coal company cry that the proposed severance tax would price West Virginia coal out of the competitive market, Marland observed:

Now, it just so happens that West Virginia is blessed with a quality of bituminous coal found nowhere else in the world. When West Virginia companies are already selling far above the price of coal from other states (Illinois $4.07, Kentucky $4.89, Ohio $3.87, Pa. $5.29 and West Virginia $5.33) what difference is 1.8 cents or 4.8 cents for that matter, going to make in the competitive market? The answer is none!25

The February 16 hearings were held in a packed House of Delegates chamber with more than 700 persons looking on from the galleries. Hillis Townsend, a Charleston attorney and legislative spokesman for the state's "pro-severance tax" labor groups, opened the proceedings by declaring: "We're willing to take the chance because we don't believe it will adversely affect the coal industry in a substantial manner."26 A second backer of the tax, West Virginia Education Association Secretary Phares Reeder, told the lawmakers that there was an urgent need for an additional ten to twelve million dollars a year for educational purposes.

Newly elected First District Congressman Robert M. Mollahan philosophized "there are times when the interests of a few must make way for the general welfare and this seems to me to be one of those times."27 According to Mollahan, the severance tax was not aimed at either labor or the companies but at all West Virginians who were directly or indirectly concerned with the natural resources of the state. "Tax experts have made it clear," he insisted, "that the ten cents per ton proposed tax can be charged by the coal operators against production cost on federal returns and that when so deducted the actual approximate cost to the operators is reduced to less than five cents per ton."28 Mollahan further substantiated his position by reminding the committee that the coal companies had been greatly favored by the Federal Revenue Act of 1951, which had doubled the percentage depletion rate from five per cent of gross value to ten per cent of the gross value thus reducing significantly the corporate tax liability of the companies.

In response to the coal operators' contention that other states did not have such sweeping natural resources severance tax laws Congressman Mollahan declared: "In the fiscal year 1951, from severance taxes alone, the state of Texas received 31 per cent of her total revenue, or $131,374,000; Louisiana, 21 per cent, or $62,995,000; Oklahoma, 13 per cent, or $26,033,000; and Minnesota, 9 per cent, or $29,029,000."29 Mollahan concluded his testimony by warning, "a far greater more immediate threat to coal lies in the importation of huge quantities of foreign residual oil which last year amounted to 128,000,000 barrels, displacing in effect 31,000,000 tons of coal or nearly one-fifth of West Virginia's total production for 1951."30

The "anti-severance tax" forces were led by Raymond E. Salvati, president of Island Creek Coal Company. "We're sympathetic with the needs for more roads and schools but couldn't we try to economize in government before imposing new taxes?" he queried.31 A second coal industry spokesman, Ernest K. Jones, Charleston president of the State Chamber of Commerce, declared: "the coal industry has been paying for some twenty years a severance tax on natural resources products in the form of a gross sales tax. This is shown by the fact that coal is taxed at nine times the rate for manufacturing and merchants."32 Other operator spokesmen called the proposal a reckless tax pattern in the direction of confiscation and said it would literally sever the throats of many small operators. Likewise, spokesmen for the silica sand, limestone, clay, salt brine, and lumber industries all said that they were operating on such a small margin of profit that the tax could force many of them out of business.

During the second day of hearings, on February 17, U.S. Senator Harley M. Kilgore told the legislative subcommittee, "you should not be intimidated by the idea that this tax would destroy the natural resources industry."33 Kilgore described Governor Marland's proposal for an eighteen million dollar a year tax on coal, gas, oil, and other products as "courageous" and added that it could be the start of a proper tax program for West Virginia.

U. S. Senator Matthew M. Neely did not appear in person, but a statement was read in his behalf before the committee in which he said the severance tax bill "embodied the most logical and best method of raising additional revenue for schools, roads, and the new state medical school."34

With the end of public hearings on February 20 and with the Legislature going into its final two weeks, Governor Marland began to pressure the respective finance committees to vote on the measure. When rumors began to fly that there were not nearly enough votes to get the bill out of committee, Marland appeared before a joint session of the Legislature on February 23 and made an impassioned plea for his severance tax bill which was carried live by WSAZ radio in Huntington. The Governor's twenty-minute address did not include any new considerations but did prove to be an especially emotional defense of his much maligned severance tax bill. Marland freely admitted:

The idea of such a tax is not new nor is it the product of your speakers own ingenuity. It belongs to no particular individual of whom I am aware, but I say to you today that for many, many years far better brains than mine - men who labored diligently in the ranks of the Democratic Party and of the Republican Party - have advocated the principles of the severance tax as applied to the natural resources of West Virginia. Some of our sister states are far ahead of us, and they exact tribute from us for the oil, iron ore, gas, and other minerals that we use from their states.35

In response to the industry-wide claim that it already paid more than its fare share in taxes and that the proposed severance tax would spell economic ruin, Marland retorted: "I suppose that any time that the natural resources of West Virginia are asked to bear a fairer share of the cost of state government than they now bear, it will not be the time."36 Then in an apparent attempt to shame the coal industry while at the same time incensing the general public, the Governor declared:

It is significant to note that with the price of coal to the consumer in West Virginia of anywhere from five to eight dollars a ton, that consumer - a citizen of West Virginia - is paying a consumer's sales tax of ten to seventeen cents a ton. But we hear that it would be economic suicide to ask the coal industry to pay ten cents per ton.37

Marland painted a bleak future for the state if the severance tax were refused, as evidenced in his concluding words which served to prick his listeners' moral and aesthetic consciences as he pleaded:

I say to you let's use this equitable source of revenue because whether we like it or not, West Virginia's hills will be stripped, the bowels of the earth will be mined and the refuse strewn across our valleys and our mountains in the form of burning slate dumps. This refuse will continue to be dumped into our once clear mountain streams.

Let me freely admit to you that this decision was not an easy one for me to make. My entire life has been bound up and dependent upon the coal industry. It has been so with the Marland family for many generations. I have studied the facts and figures for many hours, many days and many weeks, studying to see if I had reached a decision that I could conscientiously defend now and at all times. I have reached that decision, I can defend my position now and at all times. The responsibility has now passed to you - the Legislature of West Virginia. Will you make a decision that you too can defend now and forever more?38

According to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Glenn Jackson, he, Marland, Ralph Bean, and John Amos met briefly following the address and the Governor claimed he had thirteen votes on the eighteen member committee. Jackson's answer to Marland was, "Governor, it will never pass. Somebody's lying to you upstairs," to which Marland responded, "I don't believe a damn word any of you say."39 When the committee did finally vote a few days later the bill was killed 14-4. When told of the vote by Chairman Jackson, Marland retorted, "I don't give a goddamn, I'm for it now, I'll be for it two years from now, and four years from now."40

Five days later the Governor caucused with Senate Democrats for eighty minutes in what proved to be a futile attempt to salvage his tax plan. Then on March 6 all hope for the severance tax vanished when the House of Delegates, in what one newspaper described as "funeral rights" for the bill, voted 56-41 to postpone further consideration indefinitely. Consequently, due to House rules, the measure could not be acted upon again until the next legislative session. Governor Marland was bitterly disappointed by the defeat of his pet program which served to cast a dark shadow over his entire term of office. Nevertheless, the youthful Chief Executive never wavered from his conviction that the severance tax was the most equitable way to provide the needed revenues for West Virginia's two major ills - roads and education.

In the weeks and months following the adjournment of the Legislature newspapers across the state performed one post-mortem after another on the severance tax issue. Particularly significant were three editorials in the pro-Marland Faimont Times in coal-rich Marion County. Even before the bill's March 6 defeat in the House of Delegates, the Times observed that Governor Marland had been in error in that his severance tax idea had not come up as a result of campaign issues which could have been hashed and rehashed over a period of many weeks. Instead, he had delayed advocating the measure until he had been duly inaugurated. "Then," wrote Ned Smith, "he called a press conference and presented his proposals with a suddeness that was reminiscent of former President Roosevelt in the early days of his tenure of office."41

A second Times editorial of March 10 attacked the absentee landlords' relentless opposition to the severance tax which, according to Smith, "was so formidable that one might have thought the Governor proposed to seize the mines and operate them under some system of state socialism."42 "And furthermore," observed the Times, "isn't it ironical that the coal industry's prophets of disaster were once so eager to descend on West Virginia coal reserves that Uncle John Lewis had little, or no difficulty, in getting his check-off of forty cents a ton for the miner's welfare fund, whereas the suggestion advanced by Gov. Marland for a mere dime a ton for roads and schools brought forth the greatest wail that has been heard in West Virginia since the Year of the Big Wind."43

A third Times editorial surveyed Marland's first six months in office and arrived at the somewhat overlooked conclusion that the Governor at least had had the courage to make such a proposal and to risk such defeat in a Legislature dominated by members of his own party. "From this distance," wrote Smith, "this seems to have been a clue to Marland's character and seems to presage an intellectual independence not often found in the executive office."44

Thus, the highly controversial severance tax provided newspapers across the state with months of grist for their mills. Even as late as the "dog days" of August Fairmont Times editor, Ned Smith, could still grind out some interesting commentary complete with a dose of hillbilly humor. In an August 25 editorial Smith reluctantly admitted that the State Chamber of Commerce had outsmarted Bill Marland in the area of etymology. He concluded that the Governor had erred by using such a "big word" even though his purpose for proposing such a severance tax had been a noble one. In retrospect, Smith observed that before ever submitting the proposal to the Legislature "Marland should have sent about 200 guys to the nethermost precincts of the state to tell the yeomanry that the Governor had a smart plan to build new roads and schools and that he was going to get most of it from the absentee landlords, but that he would need everybody's help"45 According to Smith, then the ensuing battle cry should have been nothing more than "Tax the Bastids."46 He concluded his post-mortem on the battered severance tax corpse by relating an incident he purportedly witnessed while attending the annual North-South high school football game in Charleston:

We have seen with our own eyes the effect of using that 'bad word'. Leaving the football stadium in Charleston recently after the North-South game where some people booed the Governor (which seems to be an old Kanawha County custom), we fell in step with a couple of youngsters, and overheard this dialogue.

"Gee", said one, "there I was cheering the Governor and you was booing him. How come you did that?"

"Why, haven't you heerd?" He's the guy that came up heah with that old several tax. Hit would a ruint everybody!"47

Notes

1. Valerie Marland, personal interview, August 1975.

2. State Papers and Public Addresses of Governor William Casey Marland, January 1953, 71.

3. Charleston Daily Mail, January 23, 1953, 1.

4. Bluefield Sunset News, January 23, 1953, 1.

5. State Papers and Public Addresses of Governor William Casey Marland, January 1953, 84.

6. Charleston Gazette, January 23, 1953, 1.

7. Fairmont Times, January 27, 1953, 4.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Fairmont Times, January 23, 1953, 1.

13. Ibid., 10.

14. Ibid., 10.

15. Fairmont Times, January 29, 1953, 6.

16. Ibid.

17. Fairmont Times, February 13, 1953, 15.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Fairmont Times, February 16, 1953, 1.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid., 9.

23. Ibid., 9.

24. Ibid., 9

25. Fairmont Times, February 17, 1953, 1.

26. Fairmont Times, February 20, 1953, 15.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Fairmont Times, February 16, 1953, 1.

31. Ibid.

32. Fairmont Times, February 17, 1953, 1.

33. Ibid.

34. State Papers and Public Addresses of Governor William Casey Marland, February 1953, 87.

35. Ibid., (In his book West Virginia and the Captains of Industry, Dr. John Williams of West Virginia University notes that the idea of a severance tax on the state's natural resources dated back to the 1903 Tax Commission report at which time 'a small severance tax on natural gas and oil just missed by a scratch being reported from committee.' Then in 1905, under Governor Dawson, another small severance tax, this time on coal, oil, and natural gas was likewise narrowly defeated after Standard Oil Company pressure prompted the Governor to withdraw his support of the bill.)

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. Glenn Jackson, personal interview, November 1976.

40. Ibid.

41. Fairmont Times, March 3, 1953, 6.

42. Fairmont Times, March 10, 1953, 6.

43. Fairmont Times, August 25, 1953, 6.

44. Fairmont Times, August 25, 1953, 6.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.


West Virginia History Journal

West Virginia History CenterWest Virginia History Center

West Virginia Archives and History