CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Several House Republican lawmakers today urged their fellow delegates to support a 45-cent increase in the state’s tobacco tax, saying it is essential to passing a balanced budget and averting an interruption in government services.
A group of 16 Republican delegates said Senate Bill 1005, up for a final vote Tuesday, would generate $75 million. They said this, combined with targeted spending cuts, would create a balanced approach to solving next year’s $271 million budget shortfall.
The group includes Delegates George Ambler (R-Greenbrier), Bill Anderson (R-Wood), Saira Blair (R-Berkeley), Roy Cooper (R-Summers), Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), David Evans (R-Marshall), Woody Ireland (R-Ritchie), J.B. McCuskey (R-Kanawha), Carol Miller (R-Cabell), Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha), John Shott (R-Mercer), Erikka Storch (R-Ohio), Danny Wagner (R-Barbour), Ron Walters (R-Kanawha), Ryan Weld (R-Brooke) and Steve Westfall (R-Jackson). The delegates are among those who join House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, in their support of the measure.
“Passage of the tobacco tax is a critical aspect of this balanced approach to protect essential programs for our citizens and avert an interruption in government services,” said Finance Chairman Eric Nelson. “This bill represents a bipartisan compromise with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin – who had proposed additional tax increases – to help keep our government running.”
The tobacco tax will generate an additional $75 million for state government, which is facing a $271 million funding shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Under the House of Delegates’ budget plan, this tobacco tax increase will be accompanied by another $75 million in targeted cuts, $35 million in special revenue sweeps, $73 million in Rainy Day funds and other one-time measures to eliminate next year’s deficit.
The tobacco tax will also directly contribute $43 million to eliminate the expected funding shortfall for the Public Employees Insurance Agency next year.
“A vote against the tobacco tax is a vote against PEIA funding,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Anderson. “Passage of this bill will avert the drastic increases in deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses our employees and retirees have been worried about in the coming fiscal year.”
The tobacco tax bill was amended in the House, so it will still need to be accepted by the Senate should the bill pass the House on Tuesday.
The group of delegates encouraged citizens to contact their local representatives to support this proposal.