Higher ‘sin’ taxes would improve state finances

An editorial from The Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — It’s a fact that West Virginia’s finances are hurting. Severe drops in coal severance taxes are putting huge holes in state, county and city budgets.

As it continues to examine state tax code, legislators are looking for ways to make up some of the shortfall.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Joint Committee on Tax Reform bandied about ideas for bringing more funds into state coffers.

Among the possibilities, the so-called “sin taxes” on alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and gambling.

It’s a difficult decision to add to citizens’ tax burden, but it seems obvious that some hikes are going to be necessary if the state is to continue to meet its financial needs.

We believe at least a part of that change should come in increases in tobacco and alcohol.

West Virginia’s current tax on tobacco is 55 cents per pack, more than $1 under the national average, which in August was tagged at $1.60 by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

New Yorkers are paying the most at $4.35 cents a pack; the tobacco-growing state of Virginia has the lowest at 30 cents.

Because of the dwindling number of smokers, the state’s revenue from the cigarette tax has been trending down as well, from $100.8 million in 2004 to its current $100.4 million. One policy analyst from the Tax Foundation told lawmakers that raising the tax to $1.50 would increase cigarette tax collections to $121 million.

We think an increase in the tobacco tax would not be as unfair as, for example, reinstating a sales tax on food…

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