Lawmakers Begin Work on 2016 Budget
A conference committee of seven members of the House of Delegates and seven members of the Senate began work Monday on finding compromise in their budget bills. Each chamber approved their own version of the Fiscal Year 2016 budget last week.
Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall said each chamber is walking into the negotiations with some priorities.
In the Senate, members chose to approve a bill that contains a $6 million increase in funds for the West Virginia State Police and their forensics lab.
Because of staffing shortages, Hall said the lab has a backlog of thousands of cases which in the end increases costs for counties.
“The problem there is that if somebody is stuck at a regional jail waiting for their trial and their trial is delayed and delayed and delayed, the speculation is the counties are paying on the low end $13 million, on the high end $25, $30, $40 million of regional jail costs that if these things were done quickly would save a lot of money," Hall said Monday.
"So, this $6 million is not just being thrown to the wind. There is a significant return on investment for the counties.”
The House is also looking to get a "return on investment" for their dollars, choosing to prioritize Community and Technical College funding in their budget.
Gov. Tomblin's proposed budget included a 1.$ percent across the board cut for Higher Education. The House chose to restore the cut funds to all but one CTC in the state.
“We have a lot of need in our Community and Technical Colleges right now, especially with the growth in certain areas like the oil and gas in the north as well as in the Eastern Panhandle with needs in increased enrollment," Nelson said.
"So, we just felt that we were putting money back to where it was going to have the biggest return going forward.”
Because of other differences in budget lines, the chambers differ, in the end, in the amount of one-time dollars pulled from the state's Rainy Day Fund.
Delegates have passed a bill taking about $21 million from the Rainy Day Fund while Senators needed around $27 million to balance their proposed budget.
Governor Tomblin used $15 million from the one-time reserve for 2016, but said he will be working with lawmakers during budget week to keep the number below $30 million.