CHARLESTON, W.Va.--The state Legislature resurrected and swiftly passed a 1-cent reduction in the food tax Wednesday.
The reduction takes effect Jan. 1, 2012.
The action came at the end of an afternoon that began with a show of unity in the state Senate and climaxed in a heated confrontation among House leaders before the final vote.
After some arm twisting from their official leader, members of the Senate Wednesday afternoon found a way to insert acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed food tax reduction into another bill.
Tomblin, who is acting as governor by virtue of his position as Senate president, on Monday had launched a full-court press to get lawmakers to revive his proposal to lower the food tax from 3 to 2 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2012.
He even threatened to veto lawmakers' proposal to grant pay raises to teachers and state employees if they took no action on the tax cut this week, the final week of the 60-day regular session. He said he then would force lawmakers to address the tax cut in a special session later this month.
Tomblin has argued it is unfair to give public employees pay raises while doing nothing to ease the tax burden on West Virginians still reeling from a recession.
Tomblin met Monday with fellow Democratic senators to lobby for the tax cut.
Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, had described the food tax cut as "dead" as late as last Friday afternoon, but after that meeting it was back on the table.
On Wednesday the Senate followed through on promises to reconsider the tax reduction by amending it into another bill. The original bill to reduce the tax was out of play because it hadn't been passed by an earlier deadline laid out in Senate rules.
House Bill 2971, described as relating to "durable medical equipment," was one of the few bills alive in the Legislature dealing with state sales taxes. On a unanimous vote by the Senate on Wednesday, it now contains the 1 percentage point cut in the food tax.
"It gives us an opportunity to keep the bill alive and send it over to the House," Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said following Wednesday's floor session.
Did Tomblin's pitch in the Democratic caucus Monday lead to Wednesday's Senate vote?
"It definitely had an impact," Prezioso said. "It was one of his major initiatives, and I think he deserves the courtesy of having that piece of legislation go down to the wire."
Following the Senate vote, Tomblin held a press conference praising members for their action.
"By reducing the sales tax on food by 1 cent, we're giving back to our hard-working families, seniors and all West Virginians," Tomblin said.
"In these tough economic times, we have all been making concessions. This tax cut puts money back into West Virginians' pockets."
While the press conference had been billed as including leaders from both the House and Senate, Tomblin was flanked only by senators as he spoke.
The fate of the tax cut then resided with the House.
House Republicans and Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, had said they preferred a complete elimination of the tax rather than a 1-cent reduction.
Republicans had argued the state could afford the cut now, while Thompson favored tying the reduction to some financial benchmark.
Tomblin continued to push for only a 1 percent reduction during the press conference.
"Let's be responsible," he said.
"We're going to be back here again in January; let's see what our financial condition is.
"None of us know what next year will bring. I think the responsible thing for all of us to do is let's try to take this 1 cent off this year - which we can afford - and then let's go back in January and see how our finances are stacking up next year."
The bill hit the House floor when delegates reconvened for a 5:30 p.m. session.