Ensure Food Tax Is Reduced

Earlier this year, in plenty of time for the West Virginia Legislature to act on his proposal, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin suggested reducing the sales tax on food by 1 percent. That would lower the rate to 2 percent, saving Mountain State families a few dollars and making border-county stores more competitive.

Not only have lawmakers failed to adopt the plan, they have begun bickering about it to the point that no reduction in the food tax may be enacted.

It’s enough to make one lose his appetite.

Reportedly, the problem is that some legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, want to do more than Tomblin suggests. Republicans in the House of Delegates want to eliminate the food tax entirely. Some Democrat delegates want to reduce it gradually, taking one penny per dollar off each year state tax revenues exceed estimates by $125 million or more.

Tomblin made his recommendation with knowledge of the same fiscal facts that are prompting some lawmakers to want to upstage him. It is expected the state will end the current fiscal year with about $240 million more in its coffers than had been predicted last spring.

That certainly is good news – but there is no reason to believe that kind of performance will be repeated during the next several years. In fact, in part because of the new federal health care law, West Virginia may face a budget shortfall as early as next year.

If that happens, the $125 million surplus trigger set by Tomblin’s fellow Democrats would not kick in – and the net effect of their proposal would be to limit the tax cut to the governor’s plan.

Obviously, Mountain State residents should be pleased that both Republicans and Democrats are talking about tax cuts, not the increases legislators in most states are considering or have enacted. Still, political maneuvering of the kind occurring now could kill any relief.

Tomblin’s plan appears to be a fiscally responsible one. Instead of attempting to do better, lawmakers of both parties should ensure the 1 percent food tax cut is not left on the table when the legislative session ends.