WHEELING - Starting this weekend, West Virginia drivers seen texting while driving can be pulled over by law enforcement. But once these same drivers get to the supermarket, they'll only pay half as much tax on the food they purchase in West Virginia.
Many laws passed by the West Virginia Legislature during its regular session this year take effect July 1. Among the most notable of these is the measure that reduces the state's sales tax on food from 2 percent to 1 percent, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday the food tax will be completely abolished in July 2013.
"This is the most significant, far-reaching change to happen in the state," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "The food tax most affects families, and those on fixed incomes."
Photo by Joselyn King
Shoppers at Kroger in Woodsdale and other stores in West Virginia pay 2 percent sales tax on food items purchased. This changes Saturday, when the rate drops to 1 percent. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday West Virginia’s food tax will be eliminated in July 2013.
West Virginia leaders have been working to gradually reduce the state's sales tax in recent years; it had been as high as 6 percent. Each time the sales tax is reduced by 1 percent, it means $24 million less in tax revenue collected in West Virginia, according to Kessler.
"And reducing the food tax (by 1 percent) is contingent on us having a rainy day fund equal to 12.5 percent of our annual budget," he said. "We're on track for that to occur next year. If we are still on track on Dec. 31 of this year, the food tax will be completely eliminated next year."
West Virginia's general fund budget is about $4 billion annually, Kessler noted. The rainy day fund, meanwhile, currently contains $520 million.
Republicans in the Legislature had fought for total elimination of the the food tax to occur more quickly. Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, commended the abolition of the tax but wondered whether West Virginians will feel its impact.
"It's dwindled so little over the years, I'm not sure people will notice" when it is gone, she said. "If we would have eliminated it all at once, they would have seen a big difference."
Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, noted West Virginia was among only a few states this year to reduce taxes.
"I will be glad to see when it comes completely off," he said. "I've spent 12 years on this, and it is part of my long-time agenda. It's a welcome sight. I think people will appreciate it. They see we are working to reduce taxes."
Also, texting while driving becomes a primary offense beginning Saturday, and this means law enforcement can stop a driver they see texting at the wheel, Kessler said.
Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving, meanwhile, becomes a secondary offense, he added. Motorists seen talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device can be pulled over by an officer only if they are believed to be violating another law.
But this law changes next year, Kessler continued. Talking on a hand-held cell phone while driving becomes a primary offense in 2013, and law enforcement will be permitted to pull over offenders.