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West Virginia's special session

September 15, 2005

The West Virginia Legislature on Tuesday concluded a special session in which Gov. Joe Manchin saw most of his agenda passed, including a 1 percent reduction in the food tax.

But the passage of the food tax cut was accomplished with a tactic that might be legal, but which seems to unfairly curtail the debate that can lead to better legislation.

In drawing up the agenda for the special session, Manchin said that the only food-tax cut that would be considered would be a drop in that levy from 6 percent to 5 percent.

Republicans protested, calling for the immediate end to the tax. GOP members have previously said that this year's surplus shows that there would be adequate revenue to cover the repeal's future costs.

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The 1 percent cut will cost the state $25 million a year. Eliminating it entirely would cost another $125 million. This year's surplus was less than $40 million. Betting future revenues will improve that much seems risky.

The repeal cut buy goodwill from voters today, but it would not do much for those on Medicaid, who got $15 million of the surplus or the state's retirees, who saw their chronically underfunded pension plans get a $10 million boost.

The governor needs to challenge those who favor repeal to detail how they would deal with the pension shortfalls and with state employees, including teachers, who are being lured out of state because West Virginia salaries aren't keeping pace.

Leadership ought to be about more than doing whatever it takes to stay in office. Instead of restricting debate on such subjects, the governor should challenge his opponents to offer solutions that will keep the state solvent, as opposed to quick fixes designed more for the next election than for posterity.

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