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Conservatives propose reduced West Virginia budget


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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A budget proposed by a group of conservative delegates cuts the size of West Virginia government to 2015 spending levels, a drafter said on Friday.

Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, with the Liberty Caucus said the $450 million anticipated in the 2018 budget as a shortage is actually from the spending increases proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.

“That’s not really accurate,” McGeehan said.

The proposal from the caucus reduces spending in the current budget by $84 million and eliminates the need for $450 million in increases to balance a 2018 budget, according to McGeehan.

“We’re reducing the size of government from current levels,” he said.

It does not touch the Rainy Day Fund that is used for emergencies, preserves the P.R.O.M.I.S.E. scholarship program and does not cut the school aid fomula for K-12, McGeehan said.

The budget eliminates funding for the Smarter Balance academic assessment tests and impacts six-figure salaries paid administrators in the education department in Charleston, removes funds agencies haven’t in previous years and eliminates business subsidies from the Department of Commerce, he said. The 2 percent raise for teachers proposed in the caucus’ budget is from the reduction in administrative costs in the education department, McGeehan said.

“We’re very top heavy,” McGeehan said.

The budget is in contrast with the budget proposed by Justice. His first budget — the Save Our State budget — included tax and spending increases, which he later reduced in another budget plan.

A comment from the governor on the Liberty proposal was not immediately available.

The legislation on the caucus’ proposed budget was introduced Friday morning. The House leadership has had the bill “for a while,” McGeehan said.

The bill, House Bill 2908, was referred to the Finance Committee.

This may be the first time a group of independent delegates on their own has submitted a budget, McGeehan said. The budget is always submitted by the governor, he said.

“This has never been done before,” McGeehan said.

Legislators haven’t been talking about the Liberty Caucus proposal, Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said. Rather, lawmakers have been waiting for the House Finance Committee to complete its budget hearings, possibly next week, Criss said.

“We’re kind of still waiting for the finance chairman and the speaker,” Criss said.

The Legislature has been working on a budget, but that is impacted by the legislation passed during the session, he said. Justice has admonished the House and Senate for not swiftly approving a budget.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, also said there hasn’t been much discussion about the Liberty Caucus budget.

“I haven’t even seen it,” he said.

House and Senate Finance Chairmen Eric Nelson and Mike Hall, respectively, will have a balanced budget ready for the legislators on the 59th day of the session, Kelly said. The 60-day regular session ends on April 8.

“That hasn’t happened in 20 years,” he said.

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