Cigarette tax hike, other West Virginia laws taking effect


Jonathan Mattise - Associated Press



CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Starting Friday in West Virginia, cigarettes will be more expensive, coal and natural gas will get a tax break, a right-to-work law will kick in, and Uber can start offering rides in the state.

Friday starts a new budget year in the Mountain State and marks the July 1 date that several new laws take effect.

After months of stalled negotiations over how to balance the state budget, lawmakers in mid-June opted to bank on higher taxes on cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to raise about $98 million a year.

The cigarette tax will grow by 65 cents to $1.20 a pack starting Friday.

Compared to its neighbors, the change would keep West Virginia cheaper than Maryland’s $2 tax and the $1.60 taxes in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Mountain State would become more expensive than Kentucky, at 60 cents. Virginia was already less expensive at 30 cents.

The move helps fill a budget hole left by falling revenues from the sputtering coal industry and low natural gas prices.

Those two industries are also set to get a tax break starting Friday.

The break would account for about $110 million combined in the 2017 budget year. Coal and natural gas producers had been paying the additional surcharge to cover a workers’ compensation debt for years. At Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s suggestion, the GOP-led Legislature earlier this year passed a bill to eliminate the two taxes.

A right-to-work law set to kick in Friday did not have the same buy-in from both parties.

The law says that new and updated collective bargaining agreements starting Friday can’t require covered workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

The law is already embroiled in legal drama. Unions from around the state filed a lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Monday challenging the law, saying it lets non-union members get union services for free. They called it an illegal taking of property.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the bill without any Democrats on their side, Tomblin vetoed it behind strong opposition from unions, and lawmakers overrode the veto. Only a simple majority of the House and Senate was needed.

On Friday, West Virginia is also set to join the scores of states that allow ride-hailing, phone app-based services like Uber.

Uber spokesman Bill Gibbons said the service will be available in the coming weeks.

Jonathan Mattise

Associated Press

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