By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor has until Friday to either sign the budget bill or veto it — otherwise it can take effect without his signature.
Both House and Senate leadership have urged Gov. Jim Justice in the days following the session to sign the bill. The Legislature passed House Bill 2018, or the budget bill, early Sunday morning.
““The budget is being reviewed by our staff and more information will be coming from the governor’s office in the next few days,” Butch Antolini, director of communications, said Tuesday evening.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael urged Justice again Tuesday to sign the budget bill.
“While I realize this budget is not what the governor wants, I believe it’s a budget that is rooted in reality,” Carmichael said in a news release. “We cannot continue to spend taxpayer dollars at the same level while our revenue collections decrease.”
The Senate president added that the budget is a first step toward a complete change in West Virginia and that he believes that, if Gov. Justice signs this budget, “only then can we truly begin to have the conversation about the need for comprehensive tax reform. If we do not fundamentally overhaul the current West Virginia tax structure, our state will continue to face annual budget problems. I believe the Senate has an aggressive but reasonable pathway to make tax reform an immediate reality.”
Carmichael hopes they are able to continue those discussions and plan a course forward. “Our state cannot afford to be weighed down by any economic shackles, and we owe it to the citizens of this state to give real tax reform the consideration and chance it deserves.”
The budget submitted to the governor followed negotiations between both chambers, but did not include a potential budget framework reached between Senate leadership and the governor.
The budget passed early Sunday morning includes $4.1 billion in general revenue spending; $90 million in cuts and up to $90 million from the Rainy Day Fund; $29.8 million taken from higher education, representing 8 percent cuts to Marshall and West Virginia universities, a 2 percent cut to West Virginia State University and Blue Ridge Community Technical College, and 4 percent cuts to all other state higher education institutions. This translates to about 1 to 2 percent reductions to universities’ overall budgets.
There is a $48 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Resource’s Bureau for Medical Services. Factoring in the federal match, that reduction in state money could potentially be an up to $200 million cut to the department.
Reductions to the department include cuts to the Center for the End of Life, Healthy Lifestyles, Osteoporosis and Arthritis Prevention, and the Tobacco Education Program. It funds the elderly and disabled waiver programs.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting also is cut by 22 percent, or $1 million, under this budget. It was zeroed out under the Senate’s proposal.
It did not include funding for the Save Our State Fund, teacher pay raises, Regional Educational Service Agencies and the Women’s Commission.
Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, explained Tuesday that any time revenues start coming in above estimates, additional money could be taken to backfill other areas such as cuts to DHHR or higher education.
The deal reached between Senate leadership and the governor took a different path.
Gov. Justice announced Saturday that the framework reached with Senate leadership includes an increase in consumer sales tax, a .00045 Commercial Activities Tax, a 4.5 cent gas tax, a 2 percent teacher pay raise and funds for the Save Our State to market the state. The deal also included the governor’s proposed roads project money.
This framework represents a cut of about $50 million. However, Justice said it doesn’t cut higher education, the Department of Health and Human Resources or K-12.
Members of the House said they knew nothing of this framework until the governor’s press conference.
In a Monday release urging the governor to sign the bill, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the budget bill sent to the Justice represents the state “living within our means” by controlling spending.
Carmichael, R-Jackson, told The Register-Herald said he wouldn’t be surprised if the bill is vetoed. If that happens, leadership will have the framework as a possible starting point if the governor calls for a special session.
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