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Tobacco tax back in play after sales tax hike nixed

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Senators put a tobacco tax increase back in play Wednesday — this time, with a 65-cent-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes — but with no assurances that the House of Delegates will be any more likely to pass the tax after rejecting a 45-cent increase on a 55-44 vote on May 24.

“I think the 65-cent tobacco tax is something they’d consider on their side of the house,” Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said Wednesday.

The first attempt at a tobacco tax hike (SB 1005) in the now 12-day special session of the Legislature was crushed in the House as 35 Democrats who wanted a more substantial tax increase joined 20 no-tax Republicans in voting to kill the bill.

The vote to originate a new tobacco tax followed an acrimonious Senate Finance Committee meeting, with Democrats demanding to know the Senate and House leadership’s plan to raise revenue to close a $270 million gap in the 2016-17 budget — a gap that will grow to $380 million for the next budget year if the current shortfall is plugged with Rainy Day reserve funds and sweeps of one-time money.

 “We’ve been down here two weeks, we’ve burned through nearly a half-million dollars, and we still get, ‘I don’t know what the other house is doing,’ ” complained Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley. “What is the plan?”

Unger made the comments over a bill, later rejected in committee, to temporarily increase the consumer sales tax by 1 percent…

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