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Justice budget plan dies in day 1 of special session


The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates killed the main component of Gov. Jim Justice’s budget plan on the first day of a special legislative session on Thursday, May 4 by voting to reject the governor’s revenue and tax reform bill.

“We made it very clear that we are very concerned with the idea of increasing the tax burden on the citizens of West Virginia,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “We believe the people of West Virginia are taxed enough now,” he said, adding that state residents can’t bear the cost of more taxes.

Armstead said the House vote was intended to send a message to Justice and to the state Senate that the House was serious in its resolve not to raise taxes.

Members of the Senate had introduced three bills earlier in the day that would provide for a 2 percent teacher pay raise, raise DMV fees and gasoline taxes and raise tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. The Senate read each piece of legislation for the first of three times.

But the Senate did not take up Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed tax reform and revenue bill, which would have been the key component to the governor’s budget plan. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the bill was not quite ready on Thursday.

Justice did not provide the Legislature with a budget bill, which is the ultimate aim of the special session. “He has to know how much money he has before he can present a bill,” said Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam.

But by the time the House of Delegates reconvened shortly after 5 p.m., the revenue bill was in the system, allowing House members to take up the legislation. House members read the bill a first time and voted to reject it by a vote of 59-36.

Justice called the Legislature into a special budget session after vetoing the budget passed by the Legislature in the waning hours of the regular legislative session.

Several sources in the Senate and the House said the initial plan had been for the Senate to suspend its regular rules in order to introduce, read and pass the special session bills in one day, then send them to the House of Delegates for consideration. A bill must usually be read on three consecutive days before it can be voted on.

That didn’t happen, ensuring that the Legislature would be back in session Friday, May 5.

House members issued a scathing statement criticizing Justice’s handling of the special session early in the day.

“As we gaveled in this morning, we still had not received the Governor’s main tax increase bill — the first item on his special session proclamation — which he had claimed was widely supported by the Senate and key industry groups,” Armstead said in the statement. “Now we learn the governor is still in back-room negotiations to come up with key provisions of this bill, all the while keeping all 134 members of the Legislature here at the expense of the taxpayers.

“The Governor knew the votes were not there to pass his tax increases, and that calling this special session today was premature,” Armstead said. “Now we’re here in Charleston wasting $35,000 a day and don’t even have the key bill we need to consider.”

Carmichael agreed Justice wanted to get to a special budget session quickly, leading to a rush to get bills prepared. But he remains behind the governor’s budget plan, which he said is a compromise incorporating some of Justice’s revenue ideas and Republican desires for statewide tax reform.

Key components of Justice’s revenue plan include raising the state sales tax to 7 percent, increasing corporate taxes and temporary tax increases on the very wealthy and restructuring coal and natural gas severance taxes. But the plan also includes reducing and eventually phasing out the state’s personal income tax — a reform favored by Republican leadership.

Although the revenue bill would increase sales taxes, the effect of the personal income tax reforms would be a $400 million tax cut for the people of West Virginia, Carmichael said. “It’s a win-win,” he said.

Armstead said the Senate and Justice should now come together to work out another budget plan. He suggested the Legislature recess until an agreement can be made.

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