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Tomblin offers PEIA funding incentive to gain House votes on tobacco tax

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Tomblin offers PEIA funding incentive to gain House votes on tobacco tax
By Matt Maccaro, WV MetroNews

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin sweetened the pot Sunday in an effort to persuade House Democrats on a 65-cent tobacco increase as part of his budget plan.

Tomblin promised that proceeds from the cigarette tax—a key part of his revamped budget— would help fund the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency.

“One would provide $15 million in additional general revenue funds that would be directed to PEIA,” the governor noted in a statement. “The second would be a supplemental appropriation that allocates that $15 million by using $5 million to reduce the PEIA premium increase for retirees from 12 percent to 6 percent, with an additional $10 million allocated to PEIA to help reduce benefit cuts or premium increases that may be necessary in Fiscal Year 2018.”

Tomblin’s announcement preceded a busy Sunday in budget discussions at the state Capitol. The tobacco tax is currently on second reading in the House. The House Finance Committee also advanced the budget bill to the full House floor Sunday.

“I’m not absolutely certain that another pop at this on the House floor is going to be successful,” said Mercer Del. Marty Gearheart before voting no. “It is my feeling that moving on this budget in committee may be a tad bit premature.”

Gearheart reiterated his opposition to raising the tobacco tax at all.

“We’ve not done a whole lot to make this work other than say ‘State of West Virginia, we need more of your money, even though our economy stinks.’ I also consider it to be somewhat disingenuous for a governor that has campaigned on less taxes to have come to this legislature three times to raise taxes.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley on Friday guaranteed half his caucus would vote for the tobacco tax bill if the money would fund PEIA.

“At least 51 percent of the Democratic Caucus will support the 65-cent tobacco tax increase subject to the revenues derived there from being used to offset the PEIA premium (increase),” Miley said before calling on the GOP majority to garner similar support.

The House Finance Committee also approved changes to the budget bill, including $2 million for volunteer fire departments workers’ comp costs.

The Senate advanced a bill to second reading allocating $2.1 million to the Boone County Board of Education so the school system can finish the school year.

Both bodies of the legislature have adjourned until Monday afternoon.