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West Virginia Legislature Readies to Complete Budget on Final Day of Session

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Legislature is set to vote on a 2018-19 state budget on the final day of the 2018 regular session. The $4.38 billion spending plan accounts for an across-the-board average 5-percent pay raise for all public employees and makes cuts to programs that had earlier seen proposed increases by Gov. Jim Justice. The budget will allow for $156 million in spending as compared to the previous fiscal year.

In a Friday evening floor session, the House of Delegates adopted an amendment to the budget, Senate 152, that folded in the chamber’s own version of the bill -- with minor differences in how general revenue surpluses would redirected, according to members of each party.

"For the first time in four years we are not touching our savings account. Our Rainy Day Fund is unchanged," said House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson before the amendment was adopted.

The Senate is expected to formally agree with the House’s changes to Senate Bill 152 once it heads to a vote in the House. That vote is expected Saturday.

A motion Friday in the House to suspend constitutional rules and put Senate Bill 152 up for a vote failed on party lines, with Democrats blocking majority Republicans’ effort to have the budget completed going into the final day of the session.

The Senate cleared its original budget proposal Thursday on a 33-0 vote.

During his State of the State address this year, Gov. Justice touted proposed increases to programs such as tourism and other efforts in state Department of Commerce’s Development Office. A proposed $14 million increase to tourism would be slashed, as would roughly $32 million in the governor’s proposed increases to the Development Office.

The cuts come as lawmakers in both the House and Senate refused in the end to make use of $58 million increase in adjusted revenue estimates for Fiscal Year 2019. Senate Republicans were quickly skeptical of those numbers, which House leadership eventually backed off on using the adjustments in their final budget. Those adjusted revenue estimates were announced Feb. 27 by Gov. Justice as part of a deal between he and union leaders to end the teacher walkouts.

House Bill 4145, which was finalized Tuesday and ended nine days statewide walkout of school employees, offers the raise to teachers, service personnel and state police. Salary increases for the remainder of public employees is a result of increases to personnel line items for each state agency.

A native of Washington, West Virginia, Dave Mistich joined West Virginia Public Broadcasting in October of 2012, as the Charleston Reporter. After bouncing around a variety of newsroom roles at WVPB, he now focuses on state-level politics and government, as well as breaking news. Dave plays on the world's best-worst softball team, Chico's Bail Bonds. He can be reached via email at dmistich@wvpublic.org and you can follow him on Twitter @davemistich.

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