By July 13, 2017 Read More →

Gov. Jim Justice blasts new capitol restroom plan

By JOSELYN KING

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia’s severance tax collections are up so far in 2017, but overall budget estimates came up more than $120 million short for the fiscal year just ended, the office of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday.

Later in the day, Justice criticized the West Virginia Senate for its $860,000 plan to upgrade eight restrooms at the State Capitol in Charleston as the state struggles with financial problems.

Gov. Jim Justice

Nick Casey, the governor’s chief of staff, addressed the revenue numbers during a Wednesday news conference via Justice’s website. Casey attributed the shortfall in revenue primarily to a $62 million overestimation in consumer sales tax collections for fiscal year 2017, and personal income tax collections that missed the mark by about $100 million.

Information provided by the governor’s office states the anticipated revenue gap for 2017 was originally projected to be as high as $192.2 million. But the combination of one-time special revenues — along with mid-year budget reductions of nearly $60 million — help closed the gap.

In addition, $40.4 million was taken from the state’s rainy day fund, and increased severance tax revenue was added to the final numbers.

In the end, the state ended fiscal year 2017 with a surplus of roughly $63.2 million. The final number will be known at the end of July when the accounting books close for state agencies, according to Casey.

Justice took office in late January, just prior to the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature that began in February.

“Thank goodness that Gov. Justice accurately predicted that West Virginia’s severance tax revenue would continue to increase,” Casey said. “Coal and gas severance taxes are the only real bright spots and have been up in March, April, May and June. Increase in severance tax is coming to pass just like the governor said it would in his state of the state address.”

—  In June, general revenue fund personal income tax collections fell short of estimate by $31.9 million.

—  Consumer sales and use tax receipts — after a 6.2 percent boost in May — rose 5.7 percent above last June. Collections also exceeded the monthly estimate by $3.7 million.

— General Revenue Fund severance tax collections totaled more than $321 million in fiscal year 2017, an amount that was $58.5 million above estimate and 16 percent higher than prior year receipts, according to information the governor’s office provided.

As of May, total state and local severance tax collections for the fiscal year-to-date were up more than 20 percent compared to the previous year. Coal severance tax receipts were up 6.9 percent to $209.6 million. Natural gas severance tax receipts were up 59 percent to $97.6 million, while oil severance tax receipts were up nearly 48 percent to $12.6 million.

— Tobacco product excise tax collections totaled $194.6 million for the year, though total collections still were $1.6 million below estimate and 94 percent above prior year receipts.

The revenue gain from prior year was attributable to an increase in tobacco tax rates last fiscal year, including an increase in the cigarette excise tax rate from 55 cents per pack to $1.20 per pack. June collections of $16.9 million were nearly $1 million above estimate, according to the governor’s office.

Later in the day, Justice blasted state legislators for spending $860,000 for new bathrooms. He said bolstering drug treatment centers would be a better use for the money.

“Based on how poorly the Legislature did this past year, the taxpayers shouldn’t pay them for a new outhouse — much less a new luxury bathroom,” Justice said. “We’ve got schools with bathrooms that don’t work and these politicians want the taxpayers to pay for gold-plated toilets? You’ve got to be kidding me…

“I’m new to the political process, but is this what they mean by ‘live within your means?’ If the facilities are so bad for our lawmakers, I’m happy to get them an outhouse delivered to the Capitol grounds.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, countered Justice. He said the primary purpose for the renovations are to bring the eight public restrooms, which have not been remodeled since the Capitol opened in 1932, into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The work was originally approved in 2009 by then-Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, and money was set aside for the job since that time, according to Carmichael. Plans for the upgrades have been evaluated and approved by the Capitol Building Commission to ensure the changes reflect the integrity of the original architecture of the building.

“I think the audacity for the governor to be so crass and callous about desperately needed renovations to the people’s house is simply beneath the kind of person we expect to lead this state,” Carmichael said. “If the governor finds it so deeply offensive that the senate would choose to spend its responsibly managed operations budget on making our state capitol more accessible to West Virginians with disabilities, I’m proud to be the person who offended him….

“I’m really disappointed that after spending literally months working cooperatively with the governor to help achieve portions of his platform that he chooses to thank the senate’s efforts in this way. The people of West Virginia deserve better.”

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