At last count, more than six dozen proposed amendments to the West Virginia Constitution have been introduced at this legislative session including the usual suspects like higher homestead exemptions on property taxes and a ban on same-sex marriages in this state.
But the one commanding the most attention this year is the issue of whether this state needs an elected lieutenant governor who automatically moves up to the job of governor if the elected chief executive dies, resigns or is otherwise unable to continue in that job.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has submitted his recommendation to lawmakers and last week it emerged from the House Constitutional Revision Committee. But not before a “fat possum” he had inserted in the amendment was removed. It was the addition of “four-year” to the paragraph in the Constitution related to eligibility that would have paved the way for Tomblin to run for a third term in 2016.
The current Constitution states that anyone who has served as governor during “all or any part of two consecutive terms” shall be ineligible. Tomblin’s recommended amendment would have changed that to read “all or any part of two consecutive four-year terms.” This would mean he could run and be elected to serve another four-year term beginning in 2017 if he wins this year’s election.
Since he ran for an unexpired term of slightly more than one year in 2010 and won, a successful campaign for his first four-year as governor in this year’s November election would mean he would have to step aside in 2017. At that point he will have served “all or any part of two consecutive four-year terms.”
Unfortunately, a final legislative decision on a possible constitutional change to benefit the current governor doesn’t seem likely to come this year. It’s not even certain the House of Delegates will have the necessary two-thirds majority of 67 votes needed to give its approval for placing this constitutional amendment issue on the November statewide ballot.
But if the proposal in its present form does clear the House, it still faces almost certain death in the Senate where both President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, and Majority Leader John Unger have indicated they see no need for this amendment. Kessler’s position is understandable. He is the current lieutenant governor by virtue of his position as Senate president.
Even those in the Senate who would — if given a chance — vote to put this on the ballot don’t believe it would receive a simple majority vote, let alone the two-thirds super majority required for all proposed constitutional amendments.
But if the governor wins election to a full, four-year term in November, he’ll have an opportunity to pursue this constitutional change during that term and perhaps get it on the ballot at the 2014 general election.
Meanwhile, once again well-intentioned legislators are trying to increase the state’s tax on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco for a dual purpose — needed new revenues for the state’s operating budget and better health for its citizens. But SB586 that could generate as much as $120 million a year in new tax collections was almost certainly dead on arrival in the legislative halls last week.
This idea has been run up the flagpole before with no success. It would nearly triple the present 55-cent per pack tax on cigarettes to $1.55 and raise the current tax rate on the wholesale price of smokeless tobacco products from 7 percent to 50 percent.
Two no-doubt sincere physicians who see the advantages in public health by reducing tobacco consumption — Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, and Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone — are co-sponsors of the bill. Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, is the lead sponsor and his goal is to find money to cover the additional $200 million the state will need for the Medicaid program next year.
But it is an election year after all, not only for legislators but other state and local officers so these three realize they face an unpopular uphill battle despite prevailing public opinion that most people prefer a tax hike on tobacco to other possibilities.
Finally, another indication of the increasingly difficult economic situation confronting more and more people is the fact that so many people are secretly depositing their garbage in large private bins provided for businesses with a high volume of refuse. The practice is apparently so widespread that a bill has been introduced at the West Virginia Legislature to allow county litter control officers to issue citations to those caught in the act.
Delegate Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, the lead sponsor, said this merely increases the cost of garbage service for everyone because it means the waste management firms must make more frequent pickups, increasing the cost of the service for the commercial customers who have one of the waste bins on the premises, which is already a crime. It may be preferable to throwing it over the side of the mountain but that’s not a sufficient excuse.