Opinion

WV Senate panel wrong to double tobacco tax hike

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The stakes are high —and may never be higher.

As The Dominion Post’s David Beard wrote last week, “The Senate Finance Committee saw the governor’s 45 cent per pack cigarette tax hike and raised it another 55 cents Wednesday.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal, Senate Bill 420, also called for raising the rate on other tobacco products from 7 percent to 12 percent and taxing e-cigarette liquid at 7.5 cents per milliliter.

Our newspaper has called on legislators and governors for years to raise taxes on tobacco products. We initially questioned Tomblin’s modest proposal to raise the tax on cigarettes from 55 cents to $1. Yet, soon concluded it was not only prudent, but it might pass. But following the Finance panel amending this bill —on a voice vote —to more than double the proposed tax hike on cigarettes, it’s now doubtful.

Most of the revenue any tax hike on tobacco products raises will shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).

Admittedly, Tomblin’s tobacco tax hike only partially addresses PEIA ’s $120 million shortfall. However, other revenue measures will nearly cover this hole. A shortfall that will ultimately send public employees deductibles, out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays soaring.

Clearly, the Senate panel’s action would help stave off future shortfalls, as well.

Furthermore, the $1 tax hike is in line with two of our neighbors’, Ohio and Pennsylvania’s $1.60 rate, and far below Maryland’s $2 per pack rate.

This legislation still has a good chance of Senate passage. Yet, in the past, House members have routinely killed such legislation.

Sure, the opposition already had its knives out, again, but now they’re even sharpening them.

We’re as surprised as most of this panel’s members were that this amendment to SB 420 passed.

It’s our hope that this vote was not to simply give this bill more rope to hang itself.

If SB 420 does go to the House, as is, delegates can still revise it, rather than seek to outright kill it.

Politics is still the art of compromise, and you take what you can get rather than poison the well.

Surprisingly, the top defender of Tomblin’s proposal is Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. He has introduced $1 tax hikes on tobacco products every year since 2000, and watched them go up in smoke every year since then.

“I hate falling into the trap of making the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said of this vote.

If SB 420 ultimately is snared by politics, take note: It was a bipartisan effort.

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