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Tobacco Tax Passes, WV Budget Crisis Ending

Faced with a government shutdown, many in the GOP-controlled West Virginia House of Delegates, including Speaker Tim Armstead, reluctantly voted to raise tobacco taxes. (Perry Bennett/W. Va. Legislature)
Faced with a government shutdown, many in the GOP-controlled West Virginia House of Delegates, including Speaker Tim Armstead, reluctantly voted to raise tobacco taxes. (Perry Bennett/W. Va. Legislature)
June 14, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The House of Delegates has approved raising the state tobacco tax, removing the big obstacle to resolving West Virginia's budget standoff.

The House voted to raise cigarette taxes by 65 cents a pack, then passed a budget that relies on the $100 million in new revenue.

During the tough debate on the tax increase, many cited health benefits as much as the money, including Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, a Republican from Cabell County.

"If we fail to act here, the tax is coming anyway, folks," said Rohrbach. "Health-care costs are going to go up. So, this is a necessary step at this time, to get this budget impasse solved. This is a step in favor of the health of this state."

Anti-smoking advocates had pushed for a tax hike of $1 a pack, but acknowledged anything over 50 cents will put a real dent in the state's high smoking rate.

The tax and spending plans now go to the governor, who has said he will sign them. Without a budget, state government faced a shutdown at the end of this month.

A large faction of House Republicans opposed any tax increase. Instead, they backed a budget that took more from the state's rainy-day savings account.

After that was vetoed, some reluctantly voted for the new tobacco tax.

But others, including Republican Michael Folk of Berkeley County, held out. Folk said he tried to think of what economic philosophy would recommend that kind of tax increase.

"The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Marxism," he said. "This is not about health. Today, Washington has come to Charleston."

Some Democrats also voted against the budget, predicting it won't do enough to fix the state's long-term revenue shortfall.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV