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House passes its budget bill


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — After a little more than a two hour debate on the House floor, with biggest concerns centering on cuts to higher education, the West Virginia House passed its $4.24 billion budget.

Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, who chairs the House finance committee, said the budget is $70 million less than the 2017 fiscal year. The budget marks $150 million below the governor’s second budget proposal. Members passed the bill in a 58-42 vote.

It keeps fairs and festivals and doesn’t cut the IDD waiver but does make a 5 percent reduction to higher education. It also cuts West Virginia Public Broadcasting by 20 percent.

It includes about $75 million in new cuts, which he said includes some of the governor’s recommendations. It continued 2 percent mid-year cuts to state agencies.

The budget imposes cuts to DHHR of about $4.3 million. It eliminates tobacco education, the Center for End of Life Care, and other programs.

It also calls for the elimination of Regional Education Service Agencies, the Office of Education Performance Audits and has savings from smoothing teachers’ retirements.

It also did not include the governor’s request for the Save Our State program and did not include the proposed teacher pay raise.

One of the critical points to the House’s budget was Senate Bill 484, which narrowly passed by four votes Wednesday. Under the amended version of the bill, the sales tax rate would be lowered and certain exemptions would be eliminated to “broaden the base.”

“Let me explain the state of affairs here,” Nelson said. “One reason we are not able to cut more, nor a reason to offer suggestions for greater revenue, is our economy lacks diversity in a big way. It’s unfortunate. We have lost many manufacturing facilities. The chemical industry is not what it once was. …We are one of the few states that has had a population decline that is continuing. We are one of the oldest states in the nation. Each of these have a cost associated with them.”

Nelson also mentioned low workforce participation and unhealthy residents among the list of West Virginia’s problems, saying the state has a growing funding need.

He said job losses resulted in the largest source of revenue.

However, he said he felt the House’s proposal was a structurally sound budget.

“It has a little hurt for everybody but it’s one that is structurally sound,” Nelson said. “It’s one that we wish we could do better but we believe it’s a good product.”

The biggest concerns came from how the budget handled higher education by allocating money to the Higher Education Policy Commission to divvy out to state institutions. The budget handled community and technical colleges in a similar fashion.

There was a brief debate on the constitutionality where Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, made a motion to recommit the bill back to finance.

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said she didn’t think it was constitutional, saying the HEPC didn’t have that kind of budgetary authority to expend funds for Marshall University and West Virginia University.

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, however, said that the motion was an attempt to delay the process and was an every-day process.

This motion was defeated in a 36-63 vote.

Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia, spoke out against the budget bill, saying his reason for opposition was because he believed it has a lack of adequate funding for higher education.

“We need to incentivize, not dis-incentivize someone to go to college,” he said.

Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, said the bill has a potential to hit the most needy areas of the state more disproportionately, especially regarding smaller universities and community colleges.

“If you’re going to a small community and technical college, what are you going to do? I’m not sure this is the best avenue to take,” he said. “The reason we have the oldest population in the state is because we are running our people out of here. Now, this gives all the power and authority and money to the HEPC.”

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, asked about the elimination of fraud, abuse and waste.

“I’ll ask this body where’s the waste, fraud and abuse we heard about all these years? Where are the cuts? There are none. This is an attack on Southern West Virginia. I see it as an attack on community colleges down south.”

“If we are going to start playing politics with colleges like this bill does, I’m going to vote against it,” he said.

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