A Last Minute Budget Could Still Mean Problems for W.Va.
June 30. That’s the day the Governor’s Office, members of the Legislature, even members of the media say is the final day lawmakers can approve a budget for the 2017 fiscal year and that’s technically true.
That is the day by which lawmakers must approve a budget to avoid a government shutdown, but state officials whose jobs are to implement the budget say that's not soon enough.
“June 30 is absolutely not the deadline in order make payments that occur on July 1," West Virginia’s Auditor Lisa Hopkins said.
As auditor, Hopkins is the state’s bookkeeper- taking in payment requests from all state agencies and checking them against West Virginia’s budget before approving them. The auditor’s office does that by taking the actual budget bill and inputting its components into a computer software system to track agency spending.
“The budget bill is a pretty thick and complex document with a lot of appropriations in it and you can’t just pick that up in one day and make payments out of it the next," she said.
"There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes once the legislative process is done to make sure those payments are made in accordance with what the Legislature passed.”
But that’s just on the auditor’s side. There is a whole other office of people who are also involved in the implementation process.
“The auditor’s office approves those payments, sends us the file of approved payments, we check that to the budget to make sure there’s sufficient funds within the funds that those monies come from and then we send the funds out the door,” Assistant State Treasurer Josh Stowers explained.
Just like in the Auditor’s Office, though, there’s a process in the Treasurer’s Office once the budget bill is passed to input it into their systems so they can cut the checks—checks for everything, from payroll to bond debts, from retirees to Medicaid reimbursements.
"That process still has to occur," Stowers said. "None of that changes.”
But like Hopkins, Stowers said the longer lawmakers wait to approve a final budget bill, the more difficult it will be for both the Auditor and the Treasurer’s staffs to complete those necessary functions.
“This isn’t just as easy as passing a budget on June 30 and being able to implement that budget as if we just go right into FY 17 and there are no problems, Stowers said. "There is a preparation period and an implementation period that you have to have, and we’ve made that known."
"I have no reason to believe that they aren’t taking that into consideration, but I hope that they do fully understand that it isn’t just about meeting a June 30 deadline,” he added.
For the Treasurer's Office, Stowers said if lawmakers can pass and Gov. Tomblin can sign a budget bill and get it in the hands of Treasurer John Perdue by June 24, his people can work around the clock to get their processing done and still pay the state’s bills by July 1.
"Every day after that doesn’t mean that we won’t run payroll, it will just mean that there will be increased risks that there may be additional errors within payroll,” Stowers said.
"We’ve estimated that a two week timeframe would be an appropriate timeframe to look at, at a minimum, to make sure all of our ducks are in a line,” Auditor Hopkins said.
Still, getting the budget in the hands of these state officials by their deadlines does not mean that’s the day by which the two would like to see a final vote by lawmakers.
A former member of the Legislature, Stowers said lawmakers would need to pass the budget bill by June 22 and get all of the appropriate signatures, and the governor’s office would have to expedite its signing in order to meet his June 24 date.
If lawmakers wait and pass a budget on June 30, government will not shut down, on the surface things will continue as usual, but Stowers said payments to state vendors could be delayed and the likelihood of state employees experiencing an error in both their first and second paychecks in July goes up.
The Legislature will return to the Capitol to continue their work on the 2017 budget Saturday.