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W.Va. State Budget Takes Shape As Senate, House, Governor All Weigh In

Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Members of the House Finance Committee work on the budget, House Bill 4021, on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.

The focus at the West Virginia Capitol is quickly turning to the upcoming fiscal year’s budget, as finance committee members from both chambers unveiled their proposals this week and Gov. Jim Justice has weighed in to reinforce one of his own priorities. 

Both finance panels have offered significant changes to the governor’s introduced budget — with slashes to marquee agenda items and increases that take into consideration of bills that have cleared the respective chambers.

Senate Goes Back And Forth On IDD Waiver Waitlist, Gets Set For Amendments 

The Senate Finance Committee quickly cleared its version of the budget following a Wednesday afternoon presentation by staff. Senate Bill 150 cleared the Finance Committee Wednesday without any proposed amendments. 

Of note, the Senate’s initial spending plan offered $10 million in cuts that would be allocated toward eliminating the Intellectual / Developmental Disabilities waiver waitlist. The elimination of the waitlist would allow 1,060 additional West Virginians, including more than 600 children, to receive services. The Senate’s proposal would have dropped the line item from $109 million to $99 million.

Gov. Justice drew a line in the sand Thursday as it relates to the elimination of the IDD Waiver waitlist. He said he would not support a budget that does not fully fund that proposal.

“When it comes to the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable men, women, and children in West Virginia, I’m not interested in taking half-measures,” Gov. Justice said. “Many of these people have been waiting for more than four years now, which is far too long. My proposed budget includes the funding to accomplish this goal.”

Other proposed cuts include $1.8 million to the state rail authority for the MARC Train (a rail line that connects Eastern Panhandle commuters to areas in Maryland and Washington, D.C.) and $10.5 million to Jobs & Hope — a substance abuse prevention and employment re-entry program — formerly known as “Jim’s Dream.” Additionally, $4.5 million would be cut from the Community in Schools program, an initiative promoted by First Lady Cathy Justice.

Senators have accounted for the creation of an intermediate court system (which is pending in the House), a new drug trafficking task force proposed by the governor and other spending outlined in bills they have passed this session. 

Senate Bill 150 was read for the second time on the floor Friday and advanced to Third Reading with a right to amend — teeing it up for a vote of the upper chamber during an already-announced Saturday floor session. 

Pending so far is an amendment from Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, that would reinstate $10 million in funding for the IDD waiver waitlist that was cut from the Senate Finance Committee’s version of the spending plan. 

Another amendment posed by Democrats seeks to allocate $2 million from the governor’s civil contingency fund to prepare for a public health emergency should the Coronavirus (COVID-19) make its way to West Virginia. 

House Finance Committee Members Offer Their Plan

The House panel tasked with first working the budget got its look Thursday afternoon. Lawmakers heard a presentation on House Bill 4021. 

The lower chamber’s version of the budget makes more than $45 million in cuts to the governor’s proposed budget. Those cuts include $5 million in funding to tourism, $1.8 million to the MARC Train and $10.5 million to Jobs & Hope. 

The House proposal also nixes $3.3 million in funding for a proposed second location of the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy -- a program that provides basic education for challenged teens.

However, the House’s version of the budget fully funds the elimination of the IDD waiver waitlist. 

The House is also offering $39 million in improvements to Gov. Justice’s introduced budget. Those improvements include $16.8 million needed to address the state’s foster care crisis and $17.3 million in restoration of Medicaid funds.

House Committee members rejected Thursday a slew of amendments from Democrats that would have added funds to programs for sexual assault and domestic violence victims, resinstating funding to the MARC Train, as well as offering funding for a veteran’s nursing home in Beckley. Those committee amendments failed along party lines.

The full House of Delegates is slated to read House Bill 4021 for the first time on Saturday. 

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