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Budget talks continue in Legislature

By Andrea Lannom

The Register-Herald of Beckley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegate Mick Bates said he knows an easy way to balance the budget without tax increases or crippling cuts.

Taking out a stack of papers he said was the budget bill, Bates balanced the papers on top of his head.

After Thursday’s floor session, Bates, D-Raleigh, reminded colleagues that there are a tough few days ahead of them. He said he has reflected on West Virginia’s budget problem and how it got here in the first place.

“To come up with the right answers, we must first ask the right questions,” he said.

He said the state hasn’t diversified its economy, has an unhealthy populace that isn’t prepared for the jobs that are in the state, has had an over-reliance on public rather than private-sector employment and an over-reliance on the energy sector as well.

“We also have a structural hole that we have not addressed for three-plus years,” he said. “We are here. The governor and the legislative leadership do not agree. … The Democratic minority agrees for the most part with the governor, but there is no way to move some of the legislative proposals. Instead, we are fed a steady diet of unsavory legislation. Here we are staring down the budget with short-term money that doesn’t fix the problem.”

Bates asked his colleagues another question.

“Will we be here on June 30,” he said, which would be the day before the end of the fiscal year.

He commended Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, and his leadership on the House Finance Committee.

“He was given a thankless task, an impossible task — to balance the budget without some form of tax increase,” Bates said.

Nelson also briefly addressed the body Thursday, thanking Bates and also joking that he was glad he didn’t ask him any questions this time.

“We have a busy day tomorrow in House Finance,” Nelson said, noting he would appreciate if lawmakers limited debate the following day. “That way we can stay busy in committee.”

Andrea Lannom is a reporter for The (Beckley) Register-Herald, a sister newspaper of the Times West Virginian.

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