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Governor’s budget criticized during Feb. 22 WV Senate session

By JIM WORKMAN

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — During the regular floor session of the West Virginia Senate Feb. 22, Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, had sharp criticism for Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed budget proposed during the Democrat’s Feb. 8 State of the State address.

“I’m offended by his budget,” Blair said. “I think any eighth grader in the state of West Virginia could have put together that budget. It doesn’t take a lot of work, if you’re not going to do anything but tax increases and only do $26 million in reductions — that’s insulting to this body, and the one at the other end of the building.”

Blair also addressed the Feb. 21 announcement by Moody’s Investors Service that it reduced West Virginia’s bond rating.

“Do not think for one minute that Moody’s didn’t take an opportunity to downgrade us because of the budget we’ve received from our governor,” Blair said. “I’m confident that played a role.

“How can we expect the people of West Virginia to accept a half of a percent sales tax and two-tenths of a percent on every business?” Blair asked. “Taxes do two things — raise revenue and deter behavior. That two-tenths of a percent is going to deter businesses from coming to West Virginia, or staying in West Virginia or expanding in West Virginia. If you don’t think so, you’re sorely mistaken.”

Blair picked up a copy of a morning newspaper and read, “‘Governor’s companies owe West Virginia $4.4 million.’ The governor.

“This is on the front page — the same man that is asking all of the rest of us to do two-tenths of 1 percent, which sounds like a little number; it isn’t,” Blair added.

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, Senate Finance Committee chairman, made assurances the Senate would present a budget well before the end of the session.

“We will have the capacity to bring a budget bill to you as quick as it’s ever been done,” Hall said, adding he has broken up the finance committee into four smaller groups, and has worked on a budget “since day one.”

“We’re way ahead (of schedule),” Hall said. “We are not wasting our time.”

Hall said in forthcoming budget hearings, committees can and should meet with representatives from departments facing cuts.

“We can go though line item by line item and ask why they spend money, to build a budget document,” Hall said.

In other Senate activity during the floor session, Senate Bill 242 passed by unanimous vote. The measure would remove an existing requirement for 180 separate days of school instruction. Partial days, due to late arrivals and early dismissals typically due to weather-related emergencies, could count as instructional days under the bill.

The bill would allow for one non-instructional day for teachers to prepare for opening school and another for teachers to prepare for closing school. The minimum number of two-hour blocks for faculty senate meetings would increase from four to six. It also also remove a requirement that faculty senate meetings be held once every 45 days. It would permit certain accrued minutes to be used for lost instructional days.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, urged its passing, saying it it’s what educators in the state want.

“It gives them a voice,” said Mann. “This is what they’ve communicated to us.”

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration. If it’s signed into law, it would become effective July 1.

“This bill will be a great step in the right direction to give flexibility back to the county schools systems,” Mann added.

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