By DAVID BEARD
The Dominion Post
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — No matter which party is in charge, budget bills pass along party lines. So it was no surprise that the House budget bill, HB 2018, passed 58-42, with just a few Republicans crossing over.
What was unusual was that almost all the two-hour debate focused on just one unusual part of the bill: higher education funding. Instead of providing funding for each two-year and four-year school, it shows zeroes in all the individual school line items.
Instead, it puts a new line item in the Higher Education Policy Commission section: a $241.1 million lump sum called “Higher Education Operating Expenses” for the HEPC to allocate as it sees fit.
Delegates Larry Rowe and Andrew Byrd, both D-Kanawha, argued that giving the budgetary power to the HEPC is unconstitutional. Byrd sited a state Supreme Court ruling that says agencies may not have such “unbridled authority.”’
At $4.25 billion, the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget is about $62 million less than the current year’s — without relying on one-time money or the Rainy Day Fund — and $80 million below FY 2016’s, Finance chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said..
“Without a doubt this has been an all-inclusive and a very transparent process,” he said.
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