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Governor urges passage of his plan, discusses revenue projections


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice expressed frustration Tuesday about budget negotiations, even as he urged passage of his plan.

In a press conference at the Capitol, Justice discussed his proposal and provided additional insight into May revenue projections, which were released Tuesday.

Justice’s current proposal includes a slight increase in sales tax to 6.35 percent and a reduction of the personal income tax by 7 percent starting Jan. 1, 2018. Further decreases would kick in the next two years if certain triggers are met.

Justice said he is an advocate of the reduction in income tax because he believes it will help many West Virginians.

He said numbers from his office show that for a family making $42,000 a year, increases in sales tax, DMV fees, wholesale gas cost would amount to $74.50. He said that same family would get $385 back from the cut in income tax.

“I believe it’s a great move for our image and a great move to potentially bring people to the state but that’s argumentative,” he said. “Here’s a fact that not argumentative. If you have 7 percent and triggering, it’s completely safe from the state standpoint. It’s safe and the numbers work. If it’s safe and the numbers work, why would we not want to give money back to the guy mowing the grass out here?’

Justice said if his plan is passed, it could bring in about $170 million in revenue, not counting his proposed roads project.

Earlier Tuesday, Secretary of Revenue Dave Hardy went over revenue numbers with the media. General Revenue Fund collection numbers for May were $344.2 million, representing $53.1 million above estimate and 19.5 percent above last year’s receipts. However, year-to-date adjusted collections of $3.637 billion were $107 million below estimate but 2.9 percent above last year’s receipts.

The gains in revenue were mostly attributed to the effect of higher natural gas prices on severance tax collections and some unanticipated personal income tax and insurance premium tax revenue carryovers from late April to May.

The largest surpluses for the month were in personal income tax, insurance premium tax and severance tax. The surplus in the latter reflected gains from a recent sharp increase in natural gas prices and higher coal sales relative to last year.

Hardy said the budget outlook for the current fiscal year remains balanced.

Justice said although severance tax numbers are improving, it doesn’t come close to resolving all of the state’s problems.

“The gain is still nowhere close to getting us even remotely out of this mess — nowhere even remotely close.”

Justice said he’s run from room to room in past days to talk to lawmakers about the budget. He also criticized legislators and said he wants the budget debate to end.

“If Republicans on the House side decide they want to (fool) around and renegotiate and have great proposals and all they do is keep running the bill and get to the point in time where in 10 days we start furloughing people, they own it,” Justice said. “This is a dysfunctional group. They’re good people, but this is silly.”

Justice said he wants the budget debate finished and said he wishes they would have crossed the finish line sooner.

“I want this to be over and I want it to be over right now,” Justice said. “I’m willing to do this. I don’t mean this in a threatening way whatsoever ,but whoever causes it not to be over or whomever causes harm to others needs to be accountable. Me included.”

Legislators continued to meet Tuesday to discuss elements of the budget. The House Committee on Finance canceled its Tuesday morning meeting but Republican and Democrat members of the committee continued to caucus through the day.

After Tuesday’s floor session, House Finance Chair Eric Nelson said the meeting was canceled because legislators could better spend their time in caucus to handle budget items.

“We are trying to move things as quickly as possible,” he said. “I think we all are. We are having various meetings and caucuses and whatnot with the Senate and the governor and until we have close to a final product, some committee meeting time would not be productive.”

He said although members were expecting $90 million in economic improvements, legislators have not yet received updated revenue numbers.

Nelson said he hopes legislators will make progress on the budget this week.

“There are two components. One that would be part of any budgetary item. What the governor presents in the way of new revenue. Second, we must have a revenue bill to look at the other side of the equation. The current budget in both chambers is at $4.35 billion. I mentioned the revenue is at $4.1 billion, so there is a $250 million difference right now without a letter or revenue measure or budget with additional cuts.”

“We need to get this thing done,” Nelson later said. “The clock is ticking. Without a doubt, there is not one person in the whole building or next door who is not concerned about June 30. We’ll get this done or shame on us if we don’t. We will get it done.”

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