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Lawmakers Pass Budget That Draws $182M from Rainy Day Fund

ColeArmstead.jpg
Perry Bennett
/
West Virginia Legislative Photography
House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole following Gov. Tomblin's 2016 State of the State Address.

Thirteen days into their special session, lawmakers have approved a bill to fund state government for the 2017 fiscal year that relies heavily on one-time monies to close the $272 million budget gap.

The bill moved quickly Thursday, being approved in the Senate on a party line vote, 18-16, in the early evening and receiving a 58-30 vote in the House just a few hours later.

The bill includes about $122 million in cuts and a total of $245 million dollars in one-time monies, including $182 million from the Rainy Day Fund, to balance the 2017 budget. What they did not accomplish was the passage of any revenue increasing measures. That lead to more than a few heated floor speeches in both chambers Thursday evening.

“The public is asking for us to present a budget. I’m doing it with the only tools I have,” Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall said on the floor after being criticized by some Democratic members for presenting a budget bill that included no new revenues to close the $272 million budget gap.

Senators approved a bill that would have raised around $78 million annually by increasing taxes on tobacco products. But that bill died in the House--leaving the Senate, Hall said, with few choices.

Democratic members with the exception of Sen. Corey Palumbo of Kanawha County voted against that tax increase, but argued Thursday they could not vote for a budget that did not include new revenues.

“We’ve got to make the tough decisions,” Palumbo said on the floor, “and I think we should do that now rather than later because next year is going to be a lot more difficult with a bigger budget hole and less savings to deal with it.”

The $272 million hole in the 2017 budget is projected to grow to more than $380 million in the 2018 budget year, but Senator John Unger said on the floor the deficit will be filled with new money generated by tax increases he believes the Republican majority will float after November’s general election.

“The fact of the matter is we’re not making hard decisions because of politics, campaigns. Well, we’ll have to wait until after the election when we dupe the people of West Virginia so after they elect or re-elect in November then they can have buyer’s remorse,” he said, “but guess what, it’s too late!”

Senate Judiciary Chair Charles Trump told his fellow members a vote against the budget bill was a vote in favor of shutting down state government, the consequences of which are much worse than not including new revenue in the current budget plan.

Democrats in the House called the budget bill a pay cut for state workers who will see a 12 percent increase in their co-pays and deductibles on their health insurance under the funding bill.

“I think people would rather have a paycheck than a total shutdown of this government, even if that means they have to pay a little bit more for insurance,” Republican Del. Ron Walters argued on the floor, echoing Trump’s remarks about the effects of a shutdown.

Governor Tomblin has five days to consider the bill, not including Sunday, but also has the power to line-item veto, or cut the appropriations dedicated to any account in the budget.

Both the House and Senate adjourned until June 12, which is also the previously scheduled date of June interim meetings.

Adjourning for that period of time angered many Democratic members of the House, but leaders in both chambers say adjourning for that period saves the state from having to pay $39,000 per day in legislative salaries and will allow lawmakers to consider a gubernatorial veto, should that occur.

If Tomblin does veto the budget bill, it takes a two thirds vote of both chambers -- 67 members of the House and 20 members of the Senate -- to override the veto.


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