Democrats Obstructed Budget Solely for Politics

West Virginia legislators were faced with a difficult decision during the recent special budget session. The state was facing a huge revenue shortfall, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made it clear that he would not sign any budget that didn’t include one of his three proposed revenue raising measures.

Of those three, the Legislature decided to take up a 45-cent tax per pack of cigarettes. This wasn’t a tax I wanted to vote yes on, because as someone who is new to Charleston, and not a long-time incumbent who is comfortable with where we are as a state, I feel that our state government is too large and spends too much money on wasteful programs.

But with the governor holding all the cards when it comes to a budget bill, my only options were to either vote yes and get the people a budget as soon as possible,  or vote no, which would result in a vetoed budget and a longer special session at the taxpayers’ expense.

Despite my reservations, however, I knew that the people of my district sent me here not to be dogmatic, but to be pragmatic; not to shy away from the difficult decisions and to do what I thought was right for West Virginia. I cannot say the same for everyone in Charleston.

While I didn’t want any increase in the cigarette tax, Democrats actually wanted a higher tax than the governor had called for. Many Democrats, including my opponent in the upcoming State Senate race, Senator Jack Yost, stated that they would only vote for a $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes.

However, at no point in time did Senator Yost offer a $1 amendment to the bill in the Senate Finance Committee which he is a long-time member, nor did he offer to do so on the Senate floor. If it were that important to him, why did he choose not to do so? Additionally, during the regular legislative session when the Senate did vote on a $1 increase on Feb. 23 of this year (Senate Bill 420), Senator Yost was absent from the Senate floor, opting instead to have campaign photos of himself taken at a water pump in Brooke County.

During the special session, after the 45-cent bill had passed through the Senate with only one Democrat supporting it, it then came over to the House floor, where sadly it was more of the same of politics over policy. While being debated prior to its vote, Democrat after Democrat spoke and stated they would refuse to vote for anything less than a $1 increase. Yet once again none stood up to offer an amendment to raise it from 45 cents to that dollar. Not one.

Instead of voting to end the budget impasse, easing the minds of those who depend on important programs like the Promise Scholarship and the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), or ensuring that we had guards in our penitentiaries on July 1, the Democrats all voted to drag out the special session, just trying to make Republicans look bad at your expense.

And if you don’t believe that politics was more important than sound policy in this instance, why then, throughout the entire special session, did the Democrats have labor bosses and campaign managers in their strategy caucuses?

In the end, after wasting weeks of time and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, a 65-cent cigarette tax bill was passed in the Senate and later passed through the House.

This time, Democrats, including Senator Yost, who had previously stated they would not support anything less than $1, voted yes on 65 cents.

The real reason why? They felt they had scored their political points. They had caused the special session to drag on for no other reason than an attempt to make Republicans look bad, but now they were coming under fire. They saw that the public was growing tired of their games, that their Facebook posts full of political rhetoric were getting fewer likes, and that the people here really only wanted one thing: a budget for their state.

As a legislator, I grow tired very quickly of the political gamesmanship of Charleston. The idea that it’s OK to cause so much frustration and worry in the folks back home so that you can score some cheap political points is tiresome.

The time for people like Senator Yost, who proclaim one thing, yet do another, has come to an end.  West Virginians deserve better.  The people deserve to know where we all stand on policies, not just politics.

Because of that, I propose the following to my opponent in this year’s election: Senator Yost, no more commentaries or Facebook posts written by your public relations consultants. It’s time to stand up and speak your own words to the people who you represent. As we move through the campaign toward this November, let’s have a serious, face-to-face debate about the issues that are important to the folks in the First Senate District. They deserve that.

Delegate Weld represents the 2nd House District (Brooke and Ohio Counties) in the West Virginia House of Delegates.  He is also an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Brooke County, and a Captain in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, having served as an intelligence officer in Washington, D.C.; Germany and Afghanistan.

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