Priorities Askew In Legislature

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposal to take a penny per dollar off West Virginia’s sales tax on food appears to be dead during the current session of the Legislature. Apparently, some lawmakers are worried about the $26 million a year loss in revenue that would result from enactment of the plan.

A few Republican lawmakers suggested Tomblin did not go far enough with the food tax. A schedule to eliminate it entirely ought to be set up, they said.

But no, that would cost too much, especially in light of forecasts the state will have to cope with budget shortfalls as early as next year, most lawmakers responded.

Meanwhile, another proposal by the governor, this one to spend $47 million on one-time bonuses for teachers and other public employees, met with a much different fate.

Not enough, said lawmakers in control of both the state Senate and House of Delegates.

Some legislators want to spend more than Tomblin proposed in pay enhancements for public employees. The governor had cautioned that a more sizable commitment than his $47 million plan might create problems in the future, when state officials will have to cope with budget shortfalls.

Nevertheless, the House of Delegates has approved a bill to provide much bigger raises to public employees than Tomblin recommended. If enacted, the measure would cost about $83 million over two years. The state Senate has countered with a $71.5 million pay raise proposal.

So, public employees – whose lobbyists no doubt are reminding lawmakers of the clout their unions have at election time – may get much more money than the governor proposed, but the vast majority of West Virginians will get no food tax relief.

The fact this is politics as usual in the Mountain State will be of no comfort to families struggling to make ends meet – many of whom rely on breadwinners who, unlike most public employees, do not receive annual “step” increases in pay.

With less than a week left in the regular session of the Legislature, nothing is set in stone – yet. Perhaps West Virginians left out of lawmakers’ vision of largess should remind elected delegates and state senators that we, too, go to the polls on election day.