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Chamber sends open letter to selected lawmakers on budget issue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce doesn’t believe the tobacco tax increase issue is dead in the legislature’s special session on the stateĀ  budget.

Steve Roberts called the chamber “optimistic” about an increase even though it was rejected last week in the House of Delegates.

“We think when all is said and done that it’s likely that a tobacco tax increase will be accomplished in West Virginia,” Roberts said.

He sent a letter on behalf of the chamber of commerce late last week to selected lawmakers telling them business owners across the state support such an increase and the support is growing, Roberts said.

“Employers throughout West Virginia have been asked this question and in fact, we’ve asked it several times, and if anything support is growing,” he said.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s tobacco tax increase plan is for 45-cents. It barely passed the state Senate but was defeated in House. The House passed a version of the new state budget without it Friday, instead leaning more heavily on the state’s Rainy Day Fund to make up the revenue along with budget cuts. The Senate is expected to take up that bill when the special session resumes Tuesday.

The chamber of commerce would support something beyond 45-cents, Roberts said.

“We could go higher. We think there is value to be had in going higher but maybe we have to eat this elephant one bite at a time,” he said.

During Friday’s floor debate on the budget bill in the House, discussion once again surfaced about decisions in recent years to lower business taxes taking away revenue from the state. Roberts said those decreases need to remain in place if the state is going to be competitive for jobs.

Roberts’ letter promotes a balanced plan to the budget issue with the additional revenues, spending cuts and Rainy Day fund money. He said there is “broad public support” for a tobacco tax increase.

“We’re leaving a whole lot on the table over this issue,” he said.

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