by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON — Throwing the state budget crisis into an even more chaotic state, many Republican Delegates joined with Democrats today in blocking a proposed increase in the state tobacco tax.
Coalfield delegates were unanimous in their opposition to the proposal. One local delegate, Phyllis White of Mingo County, had said shortly after the Democrat primary that she would not support any tax or fee increases unless all Republicans, who are in the majority, signed on to the legislation. Clearly, in a 55-44 rejection vote, all GOP members did not support the raise in tobacco taxes.
Lincoln County Democrat Jeff Eldridge was among those voting against the increase, which had been recommended by Democrat Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. White was joined by the other Mingo delegate, Justin Marcum, who also voted against the measure. Putnam County Republican Michel Moffatt, who has been under fire from Republican leaders because the Liberty Caucus, of which he is a part, caucused with Democrats, also opposed the raise.
Republican Joshua Nelson of Boone County voted “no” as well, as did Democrats Rupie Phillips and Ralph Rodighiero.
Tomblin was clearly not pleased with the House action. The GOP-controlled State Senate had already approved the measure.
On Monday, 16 Republican House members had announced their support for Tomblin’s 45-cent per pack tobacco increase and had predicted passage Tuesday. Among them was House Finance Chair Eric Nelson of Kanawha County, who voted for the raise.
Budgetary problems, along with other disagreements have fueled speculation that some Republicans may completely split with their GOP colleagues on a number of issues. Speaker Tim Armstead of Kanawha is said to be frustrated at the in-fighting among GOP House members.
Even with the tobacco tax increase, leaders have said drastic cuts will be made in the budget along with a raid of the so-called “Rainy Day Fund.”