01 March 2010

The Art of the Switcheroo

Last week's death of a proposed beer tax hike came as no surprise to one of its leading advocates, who tells The Associated Press that its demise was part of his plan all along.

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue, D-Wayne, "knew there was virtually no chance of raising the beer tax this year - a reality he readily accepted," writes AP's Tom Breen. "Perdue wanted to use the tax to generate attention for a plan to fund substance abuse programs."

So, "after lawmakers agreed on the desirability of substance abuse programs but balked at using a beer tax hike to fund them, Perdue swiftly withdrew the tax proposal," AP reports. "In its place, he offered a plan to use money from a $374 million Medicaid reserve fund, along with any other sources the Legislature identifies, for substance abuse programs."

While the maneuver ratchets up a long-running dispute over those reserves with Gov. Joe Manchin, it also helped secure a unanimous endorsement from House Health.

"Even Republicans on the committee, who had been gleefully anticipating Democratic endorsement of a politically risky beer tax hike, voted for the measure, albeit grudgingly," Breen writes.

"I would use any artifice I could to make sure the light of day was on these problems," Perdue told AP, which reports that he also "apologized to the committee for the 'somewhat manipulative' tactic, but ticked off a long list of grim statistics to illustrate the extent of West Virginia's drug and alcohol abuse problem."

The Charleston Gazette compares Perdue's handling of the beer tax proposal and last year's push for calorie counts on restaurant menus. The Gazette also earlier covered the shelving of the tax hike, as did MetroNews and the Charleston Daily Mail.

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