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Editorial: Devil is in the detail of budget deal

The Register-Herald of Beckley:

Word arrived late Saturday night that a budget deal had been reached between Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael – without the House knowing what was going on behind closed doors.

So, trouble ahead? Well, no matter what budget bill this legislature produces, regardless of the compromises and the backroom deals, Republican members of both the House of Delegates and the Senate knew this: They are poodles, Gov. Jim Justice is the big ol’ grizzly bear.

Republicans had to be running the budget numbers and counting the votes within their chambers – because, bottom line, they don’t hold enough seats to override a gubernatorial veto. And Big ol’ Jim wasn’t liking what he was seeing out of budgets passed by both chambers this past week.

You may remember that back in February, Justice laid into Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, who found the governor lacking detail in his policy pronouncements.

“It’s almost like a grizzly bear walking through the woods and then a poodle walking behind him, barking and nipping and all this kind of stuff, for nothing. And basically, at some point in time, if I’m the poodle I’m concerned that the grizzly bear is going to get tired of all the tweeting and the little crap that’s going on and turn around and eat your ass.”

So, no, we never saw the governor about to roll over on basic tenets of his budget, which he had trimmed from a few dimes north of $4.5 billion to a handful of nickels shy of $4.4 billion.

The governor has remained adamant since his white-board state-of-the-state talk that the legislature couldn’t cut its way out of its annual budget mess – a projected $500 million deficit this coming fiscal year – hacking away at services, throwing people out of work and dipping into the state’s rainy day fund.

Justice was ready to raise $224 million via new tax revenue while cutting $55 million in current spending.

Contrast that to the budget the Senate passed late last week: a $4.1 billion plan that:

● Cut $79 million to public schools. Instead of finding revenues themselves, the senators passed a revenue bill – co-sponsored by Sue Cline, R-Wyoming – that handed that burden back to county governments. In short, Republican senators were saying: If you want better schools, you can hike property taxes. But we aren’t lifting a finger to help you.

— Cut $41.5 million from higher education. And that, of course, would have hiked tuitions, cut class offerings and put a college education just that much further out of reach for West Virginia kids.

— Cut $47.7 million across the board to the Department of Health and Human Services, which meant West Virginia would have lost federal matching dollars of $187.6 million.

Justice and the Senate were far apart heading into the weekend – with the House budget splitting the difference.

Broad outlines of the new deal include:

● An increase in consumer sales tax, a Commercial Activities Tax, and a 4.5 cent gas tax.

● A process to eliminate personal income tax beginning Jan. 1, 2018, taking income tax rates down 20 percent of its current rate.

● Total budget cuts of about $50 million.

● Smaller cuts to higher education, the Department of Health and Human Resources and K-12.

Well, the devil is in the detail – which we do not know at this late writing. And whether or not the House will agree with all of this is to be seen. We may even have clarity – one way or another – before this morning.

But, the ol’ grizly held his ground, didn’t run and got a good bit of what he was after.

And if this holds, Carmichael got a start on removing personal income taxes in the state.

Clearly, he was counting votes.

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