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Jul 15

Elected Officials Charge Vape Shops to Fund their Pensions

Elected Officials Caught in Deception

Taxation to Fund Pensions

In the ever growing turmoil of the vaping industry, a trend is quickly growing. State officials in legislative bodies across the whole country have deemed the vaping industry a prime target. Over the last 18 months, the industry has seen such attacks stemming from a wide array of varieties. The industry has experienced flavor bans, wholesale tax increases, per mil tax increases, and even the so called ‘smoking’ bans which should not be relevant to the industry as vapor products do not produce smoke; however only vapor.

One state fought an ongoing battle over taxation in 2016; introducing a per mil tax. After state officials were shut down and the legislation was killed, they quickly scrambled to reintroduce it over again. The bill was defeated not only once, but 3 times before elected officials pushed the tax through. So what changed on the final time the bill was introduced to change the minds of elected officials?

Leadership in both the Senate and House held the elected members with a political hostage move. Members were threatened that their next campaigns would be in jeopardy with all state employees voting against them in their districts. Elected officials were told the tax increase would be used to fund the pension programs for teachers, law enforcement, and other state employees who dedicated their life and livelihood to the state and the residents of the state.

 

Leadership told members there were no other alternatives to funding the pension programs, as well as no other monies elsewhere to draw from. This was their only option as told to them by leadership.  Members were also told that by passing the minimal tax, it would serve a greater good to the public and was not that impactive on such a small industry in the state.

Some facts were never brought to public attention, and are being brought forward right here. Several elected officials who voted in favor of the tax increases should have abstained from the vote and not been allowed to vote on the tax increases. Under rule 49 of the House Code of Rules, members who are directly impacted from a piece of legislation must request a ‘Rule 49’ to abstain from the vote. Considering that several elected officials have opted in for the state pension program based on their service to the state, the tax directly impacted the funding of their retirement checks. These members were not looking out for the state employees, but were looking out for their own pensions. Yet when the vote went to floor for passage, not one member who was eligible for the pension program asked for Rule 49. #IllegalVotes #CrookedPoliticians

The following day after the tax was rammed through passage, something even more disturbing happened. The Capitol Building was quiet as the media left the day before after all the bills went through; and even a vast majority of watchers left the capitol as well. Nobody expected what would happen next to occur. The governors office kept the elected members in session, but why? The following day, the Governor sent up a special bill from his office. This bill conveniently moved money from downstairs in the BPW (Board of Public Works) to cover the pensions and retirements. It also dedicated 100’s of millions of dollars from these agencies ‘downstairs’. Yet just 24 hours earlier, elected officials were told there was ‘absolutely no money’ anywhere that could be used.

 

Deception or greedy tax grab? I think we all know the answer to that question my friends. Moving forward following this story is a twist I believe should be a trend across the country. The vaping community throughout the state organized and created an endorsement rating for elected officials. The information was shared throughout the vaping community statewide, as well as through retailers who were also impacted by the tax increases (tobacco taxes were also included in the vapor tax bill). The anger by the community and those taxed resonated at the polls with single issue voters angry at officials who attacked their industry. The Endorsements as collected and distributed by the ‘West Virginia United Vapers Coalition’ (unofficial group of united vapers working together), seemed to do the job at hand in November 2016 during the election process. 100 percent of their national and statewide endorsements all won their races, and those they opposed all lost their elections. Throughout the Senate and House races, the vaping communities endorsements held a 90 percent average on wins; which is quite phenomenal in percentages.

But what about the vape shop owners who now have to pass on the tax to consumers everyday? They have taken the fight to the ground. Vape shop owners banded together in a few strategic moves. One was their creating of the official West Virginia Vaping Coalition (WVVC) and joining the ranks of the highly esteemed Retailers Association in the state; with representation of a full time lobbyist. Their second move came as they filed a lawsuit against the illegal maneuvers of the state in their taxation process. In the most recent process of the lawsuit, the state made a motion to dismiss their lawsuit (standard strategy move by government), but it was strategically defended by the legal team of the WVVC.

The unfortunate part of the story is this. Some vapor shops in the state just don’t care and are leaving the fight up to the coalition. Some have even shown their true colors with proving they are just in business for the consumer dollar and not to protect the industry because they refuse to pay those taxes, and are illegally evading at this point. We need to truly stand up for those in the industry that put a percentage of what they do to protect the future of vaping. We need to stop feeding the wallets of those who simply want the industry’s money to pay for their luxuries and lavish lifestyle. In the end, they are the ones that truly do not have a stake in the industry, as they already have established other revenue streams in the event the industry fails at the end of the day.

My friends, today you can do your part, even if out of kindness, you can stand up and help protect this industry and set a precedence that all states can follow. After all is it not time to Bully the Bully who has been pushing this industry around and kicking it to the ground?

 

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