Miley: at least half of House Dems will support 65-cent tobacco increase if money goes to PEIA

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Miley: at least half of House Dems will support 65-cent tobacco increase if money goes to PEIA
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

House of Delegates Minority Leader Tim Miley says members of his caucus have made a “significant concession” in hopes of passing a new budget and avoiding a state government shutdown.

During an appearance Friday on MetroNews “Talkline,” Miley (D-Harrison) explained the 51 percent plan. He said he can deliver at least 19 votes from his 36 member caucus in favor of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s plan to increase the tobacco tax by 65 cents with a condition.

 “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.

The special session on the budget resumes Saturday with Tomblin’s new tobacco tax plan on the table. It’s projected to bring in $100 million. His plan also takes $70 million from the Rainy Day Fund along with account sweeps and budget cuts to reach the projected $270 million revenue hole into into next fiscal year. Tomblin vetoed the budget bill passed last week calling it “irresponsible.” The plan used $182 million from the Rainy Day Fund to help fill the hole.

The Republican Caucus has 64 members and Miley is hopeful House Speaker Tim Armstead can get half or a little more to support the governor’s plan and PEIA condition.

“We’re in the minority at 36 out of 100 members. If we can bring 51 percent at least of our caucus, we are calling on the Republican majority of 64 members to at least do the same,” Miley said.

The Democrats in the House are firm on the PEIA condition, Miley said.

“We feel pretty strongly about making sure we’re not causing state employees and public employees to take steps backward in their compensation,” he said.

The Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board approved $120 million in benefit reductions in the form of higher deductibles, copays and prescription costs along with higher premiums for retirees at its meeting last December. Premiums for active workers and retirees would increase. The state has an 80/20 law that causes premiums do increase if the state puts in more money but Miley said there are ways to get around that by designating the new funding as “non-premium dollars.”

The state Senate goes into session at 11 a.m. Saturday and could pass the governor’s new plan rather quickly with bipartisan support. Sen. Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) said Friday on “Talkline” he’s agrees with the 65-cent tobacco tax plan because of the looming shutdown.

“I do not want to see the government crash. That would be the absolutely worst thing that could happen, not only to the politicians, but to the state,” Kessler said.

There is discussion that some House Republicans may attempt to override the governor’s veto of the budget bill. It would take 67 votes in the House and a similar two-thirds in the Senate. Kessler said Friday there’s not one Democrat in the Senate that would vote for an override.

“That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Miley said with June 30 quickly approaching, agreeing with the governor’s plan along with fixing PEIA isn’t perfect but a needed compromise.

“If both sides walk away with a little sour taste in their mouth because they didn’t get everything they wanted but at the same time they got a lot more than what they otherwise could have gotten, which might have been zero, then it’s probably a good resolution,” Miley said.

The House floor session begins at 2 p.m. Saturday.