Catastrophic Cuts to Higher Ed Rejected During House Budget Debate
After the House of Delegates passed its first measures of the special session Thursday, the slightest sense of progress on the budget has finally arrived. Nine days in and with no revenue measures passed to help cover a $270 million shortfall, the House took its budget bill up on second reading.
All but one of the amendments to the bill were shot down. One set that called for catastrophic cuts to some higher education institutions, eliciting emotional responses.
In a morning floor session, the House passed its first bill to address the upcoming budget. House Bill 105 would close the Licensed Racetrack Modernization Fund and the Historic Resort Modernization Fund, freeing up at least $9 million to help cover the 2017 budget.
But with the failure of a tobacco tax increase on Tuesday, the House is now forced to find other ways to balance the budget — be it cuts or a heavy dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
With the budget bill on second reading, Republican Delegates Ron Walters of Kanawha and Ray Canterbury of Greenbrier had introduced a set of seven amendments that would have defunded various higher education institutions on a catastrophic level.
“This morning’s paper, the Governor says if a bill comes down to him and it spends more than $90 million of our revenue shortfall fund, he’s going to veto it,” Walters said. “A few days ago here, we had a vote on a revenue source. That’s another line in the sand. We don’t have a revenue source.”
Fairmont State, Glenville State and Shepherd universities — as well as various community and technical colleges — would have been left with only a few thousand dollars to operate.
The amendments, which would have totaled more than $51 million in cuts, drew emotional reactions from many members of the House. Del. Mike Caputo, of Marion County, spoke of Walters and Canterbury directly.
“They want to rip into this budget and gut the entire amount that this premiere institution that’s been around for forever and a day — the crown jewel of Marion County. It’s appalling,” he said. “They just want to rip the guts out from it? It’s absolutely appalling.”
Walters also introduced other amendments on his own that would have completely defunded WVU-Tech and the Courtesy Patrol.
In the end, and after calls from fellow members to withdraw the amendments, Walters pulled all of his proposed changes to the budget bill. While doing so, he spoke to the gravity of the situation with the budget gap.
“There’s been a lot of words used. Disgusting, shouldn’t offer this amendment. This isn’t something we should be doing. Let me give you something that’s disgusting,” he said. “On July 1, if a budget is not passed, 760,000 people lose their health insurance. How many women and children and families does that affect? Is that a crisis for Marion County that I just offered this amendment? It created a crisis. That’s how ugly it could get here.”
In total, 19 amendments were initially offered to the budget bill. Some were withdrawn, but all others that went up for a vote were rejected — aside from House Finance Chair Eric Nelson’s, which made changes to the bill based on the morning’s proceedings.
The current version of the House’s budget uses $143 million of the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Governor Tomblin has said he isn’t interested in tapping heavily into the Rainy Day Fund, but he would consider extending his call on bills that might make it through during the special session on a case-by-case basis.
The House will be back in session Friday morning to vote on its version of the budget.