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W.Va. Senate Kills Sales Tax Hike, Attempts Tobacco Tax Again

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Senate President Bill Cole speaks with Minority Leader Jeff Kessler before a floor session.

A mere 24 hours after the Senate Finance Committee floated a bill to increase the state’s consumer sales tax by 1 percent, which would bring in $196 million in new revenues to close the $272 million gap in the 2017 budget, the bill died after a 6-10 vote.

Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall said during the meeting that the bill was his personal plan to close the budget gap in 2017 and aid the 2018 gap of about $383 million but was not fully backed by his caucus.

The committee did move forward, however, with another attempt at increasing taxes on tobacco products.

After a vote of bi-partisan support, the Senate Finance Committee moved a bill that would increase the state’s cigarette tax by 65 cents per pack, increase the taxes on smokeless and other tobacco products from 7 percent to 12 percent, and create a 12 percent tax on e-cigarettes at the point of sale. The bill is expected to bring in about $100 million annually.

The bill was amended to include smokeless tobacco and e-cigarette products, originally only including a hike to the cigarette tax because “the bill has a better chance without those product in it,” according to Hall.

Earlier in the day, Senate President Bill Cole said he was unsure he would support an increase in the state’s consumer sales tax, but would vote in favor of the 65 cent increase on cigarettes.

“Honestly, I’m sticking to the cigarette tax because I think it has the best chance of passing on both ends of the Capitol,” Cole said.

A proposal to increase the cigarette tax by 45 cents failed in the House of Delegates last week, but Cole said he believes both Senate and House Democrats are starting to see the importance of passing the revenue increasing measure.

Republicans have a majority in both chambers. 

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