CHARLESTON, W.Va. –The House of Delegates has decided not to send the tobacco tax increase bill to its finance committee for discussion before dealing with it on the floor.
The House leadership followed through with comments made earlier this week on MetroNews “Talkline” by Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha) who said sending the bill to the finance committee wasn’t necessary because House members knew the issue.
The bill (SB 1005) will be on first reading in the House Friday. That would put it on a timeline to be voted up or down early next week.
The Senate passed the bill 17-16 Thursday with 16 Republicans voting for the increase and all Democrats, with the exception of Sen. Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha), voting against it. Sen. Kent Leonhardt (R-Monongalia) was the only GOP member to vote against the bill. Sen. Robert Karnes (R-Upshur) didn’t vote. He was in the hallway, other senators said.
The bill would increase the tax on cigarettes by 45-cents a pack along with taking the tax on smokeless and chewing tobacco from seven percent to 12 percent along with a first-ever tax on e-cigarette liquids. The increase is expected to raise an estimated $78 million a year as the governor and legislature attempt to fill a projected $271 million revenue hole in next fiscal year’s budget.
Sen. Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) told fellow members there were more reasons to vote in favor of the bill than against it.
“In every instance this legislature tries to find the ground that we can pass and do the right thing for the citizens of West Virginia,” Carmichael said. “We never get everything we want. None of us get all that we want.”
No Democrat spoke for or against the bill during Thursday’s floor session.
The bill dedicates $43 million of the tax increase revenue annually to the state Public Employees Insurance Agency. Another good reason to vote for the bill, according to Sen. Chris Walters (R-Putnam).
“Every single year, not just this year to PEIA, but every single year an additional $43 million directed, straight to the health care, the benefits for state workers,” Walters said.
The finance committee PEIA amendment was authored by Sen. John Unger (D-Berkeley), but Unger voted against the bill on the floor.
The bill’s future in the House of Delegates, where some 20 members have taken a no tax pledge, is less certain.
Gov. Tomblin had three revenue bills on his special session call but there appears to be no interest in the proposed one percent increase in the Consumer Sales Tax and the bill that would lift the exemption on telecommunications tax which would bring in another $60 million. The Republican majority is instead looking at additional spending cuts and going into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) and Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) both released statements following the vote.
“Senate Democrats offered an amendment, which was supported by Senate leadership, to dedicate some of the new revenue specifically for PEIA and to put $1 million per year toward tobacco cessation programs,” Cole said. “Today, every Senator had a chance to vote for new revenue that would help eliminate the deficit and pass a budget to continue to provide affordable health care to our workers, keep the PROMISE scholarship program, and offer certainty to the state budget,” Cole said. “When it came time to vote, only Senator Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) had the courage to vote for the issues the Democratic Caucus has been fighting for the past six months with the other 15 members voting against PEIA, the PROMISE Scholarship, and a budget.”
“The 45-cent increase is not a solution to this crisis. Senate Democrats are committed to fixing the problem for the long term. Without knowing what the leadership’s comprehensive budget proposal is, it is irresponsible of the Senate to pass temporary piecemeal solutions.”