Aug 3, 2011- Special Session: Day 3

By: Michael Hyland
By: Michael Hyland

The Senate approved a plan to phase out the food tax by 2014 and introduced a congressional redistricting plan that already has Kanawha County leaders upset.

First, an update on the redistricting process.

Democratic Senate leaders released this map today that would significantly alter some of the congressional boundaries.

It would split Kanawha County into two districts. Roughly speaking, the northern half would become part of district one, which is represented by David McKinley (R). That would include Charleston, home of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R). The southern half of the county would go into district three, represented by Nick Rahall (D).

West Virginia Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley) told me the map is a starting point, but said he could support it or something similar if it were to be the final product.

He points out that under this plan, the state would achieve the goals of having compact districts. Also, the population of each would be nearly equal.

Senator Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha) told me he doesn't support this map and doesn't see the need to split Kanawha County. (Harrison County would also be broken up in this proposal.) He says a simple solution to the issue would be to allow Mason County to shift into distrct 3.

Unger says that still allows for the districts not to be as close in population as they should be.

Republicans are calling this a scheme to force McKinley and Capito to run against each other, since they would live in the same district under this plan.

Not so, says Unger.

Under the U.S. Constitution, a person needs only to live in the state, not necessarily the district s/he represents.

In Florida, a bizarre example of this has unfolded. Rep. Allen West (R) actually lives in the district of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D). Their relationship has been filled with tension. But as PolitiFact Florida notes in the above link, he's not the only congressman who lives outside the district he represents.

What do you think?

Also, there's more below on the food tax issue.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The food tax would be eliminated in 2014 if the House of Delegates approves a plan passed by the Senate Wednesday evening.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) amended his original call to lower the tax by another half-cent, now urging lawmakers to adopt a plan that would stop West Virginia from taxing groceries entirely.

Charleston shopper Peggy Barrett says prices at the grocery store continue to climb.

"Anything's going to help with the economy being bad like it is," says Barrett.

The full Senate voted unanimously in favor of the food tax reduction plan Wednesday.

Senate Finance Chair Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) says the move is something "all of us want to do, but we want to do it in a responsible manner."

The tax is already approved to come down in January from 3 percent to 2 percent.

Under this plan, the tax would drop another half-cent in January and continue to drop based on the state hitting certain thresholds with the rainy day fund.

Under state law, half of any surplus at the end of the fiscal year has to go into the fund until the account reaches 10 percent of the general revenue fund.

Tomblin is calling for that requirement to be increased to 15 percent of the rainy day fund.

Each time the tax goes down a penny, the state takes a loss of about $24 million per year.

The tax would continue to drop until 2014, when it would no longer exist.

But, with that approach some shoppers doubt they'll really see savings.

Barrett says, "Because it's going to be over a period of time. If they do it altogether at once, maybe. But, other than that, no, I don't think so." 

Prezioso acknowledges the short-term savings for consumers may not be large. "But, over the course of a year, it does add up," he says.

But shopper Richard Khoury questions whether this is just an attempt for lawmakers to appeal to voters. "It's not going to make a difference one way or another, but it certainly is something that should not be there," says Khoury.   

With the Senate’s action Wednesday, the bill heads to the House of Delegates, where Republicans say they still plan to push for an immediate repeal.

But, earlier this year, a fight over the food tax in the House led to a few days of chaos where regular operations were dramatically slowed.

"We're not going to let politics enter into that one way or another. If we can give money back to the people, we're going to do it," says House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha).

Tomblin has repeatedly called this tax “regressive” and has promised to end it eventually.

His opponent in the governor's race, Republican businessman Bill Maloney, says Tomblin never should have voted for the food tax in the first place.

Senate Democrats say when the tax was approved a couple decades ago, the state was bankrupt and needed a way to pay the bills.

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