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Democrats opposed what they now take credit for

President Kennedy said, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

The same can be said for taxes. No one wants to take the blame for a tax increase, but every politician wants to share in the credit for tax cuts.

And so when the last penny of West Virginia's hated food tax was eliminated with the start of the new fiscal year Monday, there was a lot of credit-claiming going around.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin got a jump, issuing a news release last Friday taking some of the responsibility for the gradual elimination of the six percent tax.

"During his time as Senate President, Tomblin and then-Gov. Manchin initiated the phase-out of the 6 percent food tax in 2005. . . In 2011, Gov. Tomblin signed legislation that established a plan to eliminate the food tax by July 1, 2013," the release said.

The release quoted Tomblin as saying, "For too long West Virginians have been burdened by a regressive tax on one of life's basic necessities. The elimination of the food tax allows families to keep more of their hard-earned money."

However, Republicans insist Tomblin, Manchin and the rest of the Democrats were late to the party. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead released a timeline of the Legislature's action -and inaction - on the food tax.

The Republican chronology begins in January 1989, when newly inaugurated Democratic Gov. Gaston Caperton announced a special session and a plan to impose a 6 percent sales tax on food to deal with a shortfall in state revenue.

The measure passed, despite the objections of a majority of House Republicans.

Armstead points out that from 1999 to 2005, Republicans tried every year - without success because of Democratic opposition - to reduce and eliminate the food tax.

"We've always felt this was an immoral tax. It was the wrong thing to be taxing the essentials of life, and it's been a top priority of the Republicans in the House for more than 20 years," he said.

But state Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio says there's no denying that it was Gov. Manchin who started the ball rolling in 2006 with the proposed phase-down of the tax, and Gov. Tomblin who finished the job.

Actually, both sides are correct.

Republicans have been pushing for the elimination of the food tax a lot longer than the Democrats. However, the fact that Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature meant nothing was going to move until Democrats got behind it.

In politics, these things matter.

Republicans now have 46 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates and are shooting for a majority in 2014. The GOP also holds two of the three congressional seats and has the inside track on a U.S. Senate seat.

Democrats are feeling the pressure and are trying to reassert themselves as West Virginia's dominant party. They realize the days of winning by default are over.

The average West Virginian who goes to the grocery store and notices he or she no longer have to pay the food tax are probably just happy that it's gone and not much worried about who gets the proper amount of credit.

But in a state that has a limited amount of good news, politicians are particularly sensitive about these kinds of style points.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.



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