CHARLESTON, W.Va. – House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, today issued the following statement after the House of Delegates voted 44-55 against Senate Bill 1005, which would have increased state taxes on tobacco products.
“The majority of the Republican Caucus showed our willingness to put partisanship aside, show leadership and support the Governor’s proposal to fund key programs with his tobacco tax,” Speaker Armstead said. “The Democrats in the House, with one exception, decided it was more important to play politics than balance the budget and fund PEIA.
“I’m truly saddened by their unwillingness to work toward a solution and Governor Tomblin’s failure to lead and rally members of his own party around this – his own proposal,” Speaker Armstead said. “The Governor has insisted that revenue measures be a part of the overall budget solution despite Republican concerns. When legislative leaders agreed to place the tax increase before the House and Senate, it was clearly with the expectation that Governor Tomblin, like previous governors, would seek the support of the members of his own party.
“We knew from the outset that many Republicans would be philosophically opposed to this increase,” Speaker Armstead said. “While Republicans, myself included, have fought for years to lower the tax burden on our citizens, the majority of us were willing to set aside partisanship and compromise to do what was necessary and right to fulfill our Constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget.”
The majority of Republicans voted in favor of the bill, with only one Democrat supporting it. This measure would have raised $76 million through a 45-cent per pack increase in the cigarette tax along with a tax increase on other tobacco products. The bill also would have diverted $43 million of this revenue to fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency for the coming year, averting the draconian increases in out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles for state employees and retirees slated to go into effect July 1.
“The Democrat members of the House have continually said that funding PEIA is their top priority,” Speaker Armstead said. “Today, they showed that these claims are certainly not true. This bill would have ensured continued PEIA funding – not just this year, but in future years – but the Democrat members blocked that today. While they claimed that they wanted a $1 increase rather than 45 cents, not one Democrat member offered an amendment to the bill to increase that amount.”
The House Finance Committee late Monday approved a budget plan that balanced the Fiscal Year 2017 budget using the tobacco tax bill, along with $50.2 million in additional budget cuts, $47.8 million in special revenue account sweeps, $61.2 million in Rainy Day funds and roughly $30 million in other measures to close a $271 million gap in next year’s budget. That budget plan avoided cuts to major programs, such has higher education and public health programs.
“Unfortunately, with the failure of this tobacco tax bill, we will have to change this budget plan,” Speaker Armstead said. “That means possible cuts to important programs will be on the table, along with a much deeper dip into our Rainy Day Fund. These are cuts that would not have to be made had members not given into gamesmanship and the politics of obstruction instead of agreeing to compromise on these vital matters.”