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Five Fights to Watch in the 2016 W.Va. Legislature

Governor Tomblin
AP Photo / Tyler Evert

It’s the second Legislature with Republicans in charge and the swan song for Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, all in the middle of the biggest budget crisis in a generation.

In this week’s “Front Porch Podcast,” we debate the 5 biggest issues of this legislative session, and how they may affect your lives (in reverse order of importance.)

5. Tobacco tax increase – Gov. Tomblin proposed a 45 cent increase to $1 a pack. That’s lower than what many Democrats asked for, and some Republicans want no increase at all.

But this particular tax may have a better chance than most to pass. Raising it can cut teenage smoking rates.

And this proposal actually received a standing ovation from lawmakers during Tomblin’s speech – maybe because he promised to use it to mitigate “devastating” cuts planned for state employee health insurance.

4. Telephone tax – This tax on all phone bills is in place in 41 states and at 6 percent would raise an estimated $60 million a year. But House Speaker Tim Armstead expressed opposition to this, and would rather cut state government instead.

3. More state budget cuts – This will be the third year of state budget cuts, and some Republicans think more belt tightening is in order. Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall says there’s little fat to cut, and now entire programs may be on the chopping block.

2. Charter schools – Tomblin expressed doubts charter schools would work in rural West Virginia, but Republicans are promising to legalize them this session. It’s a complicated issue, and a Tomblin veto may be hard to override unless lawmakers pass a charter school bill relatively early in the 60-day session.

1. Right to Work – This was bill number 1, to make West Virginia the nation’s 26th Right to Work state. Unions held a pre-emptive demonstration outside the State of the State address.

Whether the GOP can reach this long-held goal depends on balance of power in Senate. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about whether a Republican or Democrat should be appointed to fill the vacancy of party-switcher Sen. Daniel Hall.

Subscribe to "The Front Porch" podcast on iTunes or however you listen to podcasts.

An edited version of “The Front Porch” airs Fridays at 4:50 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s radio network, and the full version is available above.

Share your opinions with us about these issues, and let us know what you'd like us to discuss in the future. Send a tweet to @radiofinn or @wvpublicnews, or e-mail Scott at sfinn @ wvpublic.org

The Front Porch is underwritten by The Charleston Gazette Mail, providing both sides of the story on its two editorial pages. Check it out: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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