Legislators to consider cigarette tax increase

CHARLESTON – Bills being introduced in the West Virginia Legislature would put a $1 tax hike on a pack of cigarettes.

However, some local legislators are doubtful the bills will make it to a full vote.

Senate Bill 362 and House Bill 2973 would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 55 cents to $1.55 and would raise the tax on smokeless tobacco from seven to 50 percent of the wholesale price of each item.

The tax is expected to bring in $120 million-$160 million a year with $60 million put in a special account in the State Treasury to be known as the “West Virginia Healthy Future Fund.”

About $27 miilion would go to the Department of Health and Human Resources for tobacco prevention programs. Any additional money in the fund is to be expended by annual appropriation by the Legislature.

Delegate Larry Border, R-Wood, said the House’s bill was on the agenda to be taken up by the House of Delegates’ Health and Human Resources Committee of which he is the minority chairman. However, a request for a public hearing was made and is expected to be scheduled next week.

Border is doubtful the bill will make it very far.

”I would be very surprised if the bill passes the Legislature,” he said. ”I don’t know if it would even come up for a vote. I don’t know how much support it has.”

The reason Border doesn’t believe the bill will get far is simple politics. Taxes are not typically raised during election years. With state legislators running for governor in the special election this year, many of them would have to vote on the bill.

”Many would only do it when their names won’t be appearing on the ballot in the coming months,” he said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who serves on the Senate’s Health and Human Resources Committee, said she has not seen the bill, but does not plan to support it.

”I have never supported any tax increase like this,” she said, adding it was unfair to the people who do smoke to have that large of a tax increase placed on them.

Local convenience store owner Gary Traugh said if the tax passes, it can basically be considered a tax on poor people. Traugh sells many tobacco products at his Kom-Pak stores.

Many politicians have said they were not planning to raise taxes this year, he said.

Such a tax would affect Traugh’s daily business.

”I don’t agree with it,” he said of the tax.

If the tax passes, it might slow tobacco sales, but people can go to other states to get their tobacco, he said.

Traugh said lower prices are what brings a lot of people into various businesses.

”You don’t see people advertising higher prices on things,” he said.

Traugh believes the state should lower all taxes, across the board, to make the state attractive for people to come in and do business here.

He doesn’t believe many lawmakers understand the impact such a tobacco tax would have on businesses.

”It would hurt us and the people we do business with,” Traugh said. ”It is trickle- down economics.”

source: www.newsandsentinel.com

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