Latest News, WVPA Sharing

Justice has the next move on budget


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON – While staff at the West Virginia Capitol complete the legwork and paperwork of transferring bills from the West Virginia Legislature to Gov. Jim Justice’s desk, House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead was calling on the governor to approve the budget approved by the legislature during the weekend.

In a news release Sunday evening, Armstead, R-Kanawha, urged Justice to sign the $4.1 billion budget measure that relied largely on spending cuts and less on new taxes or tax increases to address an almost $500 million revenue shortfall.

Armstead didn’t directly address a deal Justice struck with West Virginia Senate leadership Saturday afternoon that included $50 million in spending cuts, an increase in the state’s income tax, and the creation of a Commercial Activities Tax.

“For this entire session, Governor Justice has criticized Republican lawmakers for not embracing his massive tax increase proposals,” Armstead said in the release. “But the people in our districts

have told us loud and clear they are tired of seeing tax-and-spend Charleston politicians constantly asking for more money to maintain a government that’s grown too large for our state’s population.”

As of Monday, House Bill 2018 in its official final version had not made it through legislative red tape to Justice’s desk, but Justice Press Secretary Grant Herring said the governor was reviewing an unofficial version of the bill.

“The governor is closely reviewing House Bill 2018 passed on Sunday morning,” Herring said. “While we await the official copy of the bill from the Clerk’s Office, the governor will continue to keep an open line of communication with the leadership in both the Senate and House of Delegates, and with members of both parties, concerning his expectations on the budget process going forward.”

Armstead and House members weren’t privy to open lines of communication Saturday, when it was announced Justice and Senate majority leadership reached a budget deal in “structure, theory and concept,” in the words of Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.

Justice announced the deal in a news conference at 10 p.m. Saturday, the last night of the regular session.

While Carmichael and other members of the Senate talked with some familiarity about the deal after the session, members of the House seemed to be caught off guard by the announcement.

Senators passed a budget in HB 2018 just before midnight Saturday with the understanding it would be vetoed by Justice to set into motion the process to call a special session to take legislative action on the deal. Delegates in the House expressed their confusion and frustration while debating the bill in a special session that began just after midnight Sunday.

Carmichael later said he thought it was unfair that House members had not been made privy to the deal prior to Justice’s announcement.

Armstead didn’t address the deal in his news release, but he did speak against tax increases, which are part of the deal.

“The governor needs to accept the reality that his tax increase proposals simply do not have the support of the vast majority of elected representatives in the Legislature,” Armstead said. “He should sign this budget, and then begin working with us as we continue our efforts to streamline this government and make it more efficient so we don’t have to continue waging these fights in the future.”

The budget passed by the House and Senate legally still is viable.

Since Justice’s agreement with the Senate was established largely through conversation, mostly via text, Justice still does have the option to sign it, let it go into effect without his signature, veto portions of it, or veto the whole budget and call the special session.

The Justice-Senate deal includes a 1 percent sales tax increase, taking the rate to 7 percent. Neither Justice nor Carmichael said whether the sales tax would be expanded to other services, but no measure affecting the sales tax, whether the rate or what services it is applied to, was approved by the legislature.

The agreement also includes a new commercial activities tax, which Justice has advocated for throughout the session.

The other part of Justice’s agreement with the Senate included his new roads plan, which was approved in a separate bill earlier Saturday.

The proposal also includes a multi-year process of decreasing the state’s income tax beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, Justice said.

The agreement includes a 4.5-cent increase on the state’s gasoline tax.

The budget bill that met final approval from the legislature after midnight doesn’t rely on any tax measures, since none was passed in the session.

The total budget includes $4.1 billion in general revenue spending and cuts to the Department of Health and Human Resources. The DHHR cuts do not apply to elderly and disabled waiver programs.

State funds to Marshall University and West Virginia University each are cut 8 percent, and West Virginia State University and Blue Ridge Community Technical College would be cut 2 percent.

All other higher education institutions in West Virginia would experience a 4 percent cut in state funding.

The measure also includes a $90 million transfer from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, the state’s de facto savings account.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter