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Justice begins budget negotiations with WV lawmakers


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Billing himself as “mediator-in-chief,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice started meetings with members of the state House of Delegates and Senate on Thursday, May 25 in another attempt to reach agreement on a tax reform, revenue and budget plan.

A second special session called by the governor to pass a state budget fell apart Wednesday, May 24 as members in both chambers of the Legislature decided to adjourn for 10 days.

“The governor and both House and Senate leadership have agreed we should have discussions with Republican and Democrat leaders in both houses to see if we can collectively reach a new path forward to solving our budget and revenue differences,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “We think this is a positive step and look forward to these discussions. This will also give us time to bring those ideas back to the citizens we represent and gain their input.

“Meanwhile, in order to avoid having to pay 134 lawmakers to be here each day, we feel this adjournment is a sensible step forward to save taxpayer dollars while these discussions continue,” Armstead added.

Leaders in the House and the Senate have vastly different ideas on how to address an estimated $200 million budget gap and have been unable to reach agreement on a budget plan since the regular legislative session began in February.

Senate leaders want to raise sales taxes and business taxes to raise extra revenue, while at the same time phasing out personal income taxes they believe are hindering growth. Leaders in the House of Delegates are dead set against raising taxes, and don’t think the state should be making major changes to the tax code until the current financial crisis is averted.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, introduced a resolution on the evening of Wednesday, May 24, calling for the Senate to adjourn until June 5. The motion came after the House of Delegates refused to go along with changes the Senate made to a House of Delegates tax and revenue bill.

The Senate voted 18-8 to go home, and the House of Delegates quickly followed suit.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, thinks it was the right move.

“I look forward to participating in productive negotiations over the next couple of weeks that I hope will help build some consensus between the Legislature and the governor on how to move forward to address this budget crisis,” Miley said. “This is a smart move by the Legislature that will save taxpayer money.”

House leadership has complained the governor was mostly negotiating with the Senate, while leaving House members out of most discussions. Justice, however, said he would now negotiate with Democrats and Republicans from both chambers.

“I want to get this budget deal done, and a mediation session will hopefully help us get there,” Justice said. “We are all West Virginians and we all want a path forward that will help our people. Rarely has West Virginia had this opportunity in the midst of a terrible crisis; we don’t want to lose this moment.”

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