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W. Va. House approves FY 2017 budget, tobacco tax hike

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —The West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a budget for fiscal year 2017.

The House approved its budget measure in a 84-15 vote Monday afternoon.

Senate Bill 1013, the budget bill, will return for the Senate to allow senators to consider changes that were made to the bill in the House.

The Senate is scheduled to reconvene at 4 p.m. Monday.

The House’s approval of the budget followed its first vote to approve a revenue increasing measure for the state as members passed a tobacco tax increase earlier in the afternoon in a vote of 63-35.

The State of West Virginia is 17 days away from the start of fiscal year 2017, which begins Friday, July 1. The state faces a projected revenue shortage of $270 million, and legislators and the governor are constitutionally required to craft legislation that does not leave the state’s budget operating in a state of deficit.

If legislators and the governor don’t come to a consensus on the budget by June 30, the state government will shut down on July 1.

The budget measure approved by the House relies on $98 million in revenue from the tobacco tax increase and a $70 million withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.

Among the changes made the budget bill by delegates on Monday was the reallocation of $500,000 from the state’s Medicaid fund to Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg. That measure was approved in a voice vote.

The House also voted to restore $1.5 million in funding to the West Virginia Center for Professional Development, which provides continuing education for teachers, including training and recertification for them to teach Advanced Placement courses.

The House also approved multiple changes to the budget Monday that were proposed from the House Finance Committee on Sunday.

Those changes included supplementing the state’s Medicaid fund.

Gov. Tomblin’s original proposal had a one-time cut to the Medicaid fund by $36.9 million with the goal of supplementing it at a later date. The House committee added about $17.6 million back to Medicaid through

The committee also voted to restore $2 million in funding to a fund for volunteer fire department workers’ compensation subsidies.

The funding increases were possible by cutting $4.1 million in general revenue transfers for greyhound racing purses and through the restoration of $15.8 million in sweeps from special revenue accounts.

The House also approved committee measure to take an additional $250,000 from the Rainy Day Fund to support Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley, which would receive a total of $600,000 from the state if the budget is approved by the full legislature in its current form.

The most significant difference between the vetoed HB 101 and the up-for-consideration SB 1013 is the amount taken from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

In the budget vetoed by Tomlin last week, legislators approved a $182.6 million net withdrawal from the fund, and the budget up for consideration in the House Tuesday aims to make a gross withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund of $70 million.

Including Sunday’s amendments to the budget, the total withdrawal from the fund in the SB 1013 budget proposal would be $64.7 million.

The original version of SB 1012 included a measure that would have prevented county and municipal governments from passing local measures regarding tobacco-related matters, including regulation of indoor air quality standards or the creation of local tobacco taxes.

The House of Delegates removed that language from the bill Monday.

If the Senate agrees with the House amendment and the governor signs it into law, SB 1012 would increase the state’s tobacco tax by 65 cents per pack of cigarettes and create a tax on e-cigarette and vaping liquids at a rate of 7.5 cents per milliliter. The measure would bring the total tobacco tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.20.

The measure was estimated to bring in $98.5 million in revenue for fiscal year 2017.

The Senate previously approved a 45-cent tobacco tax increase on May 19, and the measure was voted down in the House on May 24.

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