By IAN HICKS
The Weirton Daily Times
WHEELING, W.Va. — State Sen. Ryan Weld wants to know where funding to purchase new West Virginia State Police cruisers will come from if motor vehicle inspections are only required once every three years, as Gov. Jim Justice recommended Monday in his latest budget proposal.
The change in inspection requirements would be intended to ease the burden of a $20 increase to annual vehicle registration fees to fund Justice’s highway improvement plan. The new proposal also includes a less-severe sales tax increase and commercial activities tax in favor of an increased cigarette tax and a new tax on sugary drinks.
Justice also indicated about $50 million in spending cuts — up from just under $27 million in his original budget proposal — would be possible, although he didn’t offer specifics on what could be cut.
But Weld, R-Brooke, said he cannot support a budget plan that takes away the state police’s source of revenue for new vehicles. He noted about one-third of the agency’s cruisers have more than 100,000 miles on them.
“I didn’t hear (Justice) put forth any counterproposal to how they’re going to get their funding. … That really causes concern for me because I know how old a lot of these cars are, how high-mileage these cars are that our troopers are driving,”Weld said.
Meanwhile, Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, said he’s working with several other delegates on a proposal to balance the budget without any tax increases. He said they plan to introduce the measure by Friday.
“We just need to reduce the size and scope of government. There’s plenty of waste in Charleston,” McGeehan said.
According to McGeehan, the $500 million projected deficit for the fiscal 2018 budget is based on increased spending proposed by Justice. He said if current spending is used as the basis for the 2018 budget, the gap between revenue and expenses would be only about $130 million.
“He’s proposed to increase spending by about 9 percent at a time when revenue is low, which is irrational — and you would think the reverse approach would be the most logical,” McGeehan said of Justice.
Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns took to social media Monday to dismiss Justice’s latest budget plan.
“The @WVGovernor abandoned original budget that he developed in 3 days for one he dreamed up in 1 day. Still nothing new. More tax increases,” Ferns, R-Ohio, tweeted Monday. Ferns did not return a call seeking additional comment.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, struck a more conciliatory note in their reaction to Justice’s latest budget proposal.
“We’re glad the governor has heard the concerns of our constituents with his initial proposals and are heartened to know he is open to alternatives. Some of the ideas he brought up today — such as the smoothing proposal with the Teacher’s Retirement System — are suggestions we brought to the table during our meetings with the administration,” Carmichael and Armstead said in a joint statement released Monday afternoon. “We also agree that additional cuts of $50 million or more are needed, and we are carefully evaluating various options for significant cuts. We hope the governor will continue to work with us on these and other ideas to close our budget gap.”
Messages left for other local lawmakers, including Delegates Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, and Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, seeking comment on Justice’s amended budget plan were not returned Monday.
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