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House sends amended budget bill without tax changes back to Senate

By ANN ALI

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia Senate adjourned for the evening June 14 without having received the heavily amended version of its budget bill from the House of Delegates, but members already know they still have work to do.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, told the body he had concerns with an initial look at Senate Bill 1013, which had not yet made it to the Senate after the House approved a strike-and-insert amendment.

Ferns said the House version “assumed close to $130 million in increased revenue” based on two measures that had not yet passed – Senate Bill 1003, dealing with the West Virginia Parkways Authority, and Senate Bill 1006, which would increase the state road fund.

Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio
“They’re patting themselves on the back for restoring some of the Senate’s cuts,” Ferns said. “They’re looking at $52 million in one-time money, and as we know that one-time money doesn’t do much for creating structural stability.”

The House version of the budget passed by a vote of 69-30 Wednesday afternoon. The measure as it stands now spends $4.225 billion, which is roughly $85 million less than the current fiscal year’s spending. The bill operates within current revenue estimates from Gov. Jim Justice’s office, with higher projected tax receipts from natural gas and coal production as well as an improved economy and it does not change the tax code.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles said this budget plan has $170 million more than the budget the full Legislature completed at the end of the regular session, which Justice vetoed.

The House version of the budget bill still cuts higher education and social programs, but less than the Senate’s budget bill, which that body passed Tuesday night.

“These Senate cuts jeopardize the health care programs that serve roughly one-third of our citizens and affect payments to our doctors and health facilities,” said Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “The House budget prioritizes spending by using surplus transfers and other cash on hand to avoid many of the sharp cuts to Medicaid contained in the Senate version of the budget.”

Members of the House of Delegates rejected an amendment to the strike-and-insert budget amendment that would have restored 2 percent funding to West Virginia University, Marshall University and their medical schools. The amendment’s sponsor, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, said the amendment would have put funding at the levels Justice had proposed. Her plan would have taken money from three different places — $874,000 from the West Virginia Higher Education Commission’s facilities planning and $1.5 million from House contingency money and Senate contingency money.

Fleischauer said when she first came to serve in the Legislature 21 years ago, roughly 45 percent of WVU’s budget came from the state, and she assumed it was a similar amount for Marshall University. She said today it’s more like 17 percent.

“In those 21 years I’ve been here, they have begged, borrowed, hit up alumni and created new sources of revenue amid cut after cut after cut,” she said. “They’ve been more successful at maintaining their budget than any of the other smaller schools.

“What are we doing in this budget? We’re penalizing the two universities that have worked the hardest to stabilize their budgets.”

Nelson spoke on the floor to warn of consequences that may come from cutting funds from the HEPC, which helps families complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

“Cutting something along this line would have a serious negative effect on all those other smaller schools that don’t have the same resources our two flagship universities have,” Nelson said.

He also warned of the dangers of taking so much from the House contingency fund.

House Majority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he was thankful the House budget cut the Senate’s contingency fund.

“I’m outraged the Senate would sit on $18 million of is own dollars while cutting our colleges and universities,” he said.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, one of the amendment’s co-sponsors, said he was confused as to why the body would cut two of the state’s biggest economic engines.

Cowles spoke against the Fleischauer amendment, saying the House’s strike-and-insert amendment already restored many cuts the body was worried about.

“The strike-and-insert amendment before you now reflects much of the shared values of higher education, the shared values of their return on investment, the shared values in investing in our young people,” he said.

The Fleischauer amendment failed, with 35 delegates voting for it and 58 voting against it.

When it came time to vote on the strike-and-insert amendment, Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, who formerly served as House Finance Chairman, said he didn’t like either budget.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to vote for this bill; we’re plugging in our House version to go to the Senate, and we’ll see what happens,” Boggs said. “There are probably people across the hall and downstairs who won’t like that, but this, probably in my opinion, will give some assurance to state employees.”

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said on the floor the special session “has been a total disaster.”

“We’re just using smoke and mirrors to pass a bunch of garbage out so we don’t shut down the state,” he said. “I know full well this is going to be the new precedent because we can’t fix anything.”

Sponaugle said members of the Senate didn’t participate in a budget conference committee “because they got butt hurt” because personal income tax reductions wouldn’t make it through the House.

Cowles said serious budget progress was made “as soon as the governor and Senate decided there wasn’t momentum for a personal income tax reduction.”

“Bing, bang, boom, just like that,” he said.

“We’re balancing how we better manage those cuts … in dealing with Medicaid through surplus, transfers and shifts instead of just pushing it down the road, and it’s a better use of higher education funding,” he said. “There’s a range of good reasons to be for this budget as opposed to what the Senate’s doing. It’s a solid plan.

“It does cover, maybe not all the spending programs you would like, but it does cover all the essential services of government.”

Just before the full House vote, Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, asked Nelson if he had any communication with the Senate about its support or opposition to the measure.

“I can’t answer that,” Nelson said, but added that the full support of the House would speak volumes to both the Senate and the governor.

The House will reconvene at 10 a.m. and the Senate will reconvene at noon Thursday, June 15.

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