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Justice proposes sweeping state accounts to close current budget gap

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice wants to sweep money from special revenue accounts and unspent money from past years to close a $123 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ends in July.

Justice spokesman Grant Herring said the governor proposes using about $60 million in re-appropriated or leftover money from the past five years and about $60 million in money from special revenue accounts to make up most of the deficit.

The move would allow the state Legislature to avoid a major raid on the state’s rainy-day fund, Herring said.

Herring said there are re-appropriated funds left in the governor’s office, the Legislature, the offices of the insurance commissioner and other agencies across state government.

“Powerful people in positions of responsibility kept kicking the can down the road, and the budget they passed last year has left our state upside down by $123 million dollars,” Justice said in a press release Friday. “The Legislature has had years to sweep accounts and get a handle on our budget; in six weeks, I’ve uncovered money to prevent another massive raid on the rainy-day fund.

“On the campaign trail, I promised I’d do a thorough top to bottom review of state government, and I’m doing it every day to fix this budget crisis,” Justice said.

“This makes perfect business sense, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t done years ago.,” Justice said. “If we keep using rainy-day money without a plan for the future, West Virginia’s bond rating will continue to deteriorate.”

But House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the Legislature has already visited the idea of budget sweeps.

“The Republican caucus in the Legislature has been fighting for years to get the executive branch to use the cash they already have on hand to help solve the state’s budget problems instead of passing the buck on to our struggling taxpayers,” Armstead said. “This would have been done sooner had we not had significant pushback from agency bureaucrats and the governor’s office.”

House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt said the House passed legislation in the 2016 legislative session to sweep about $83 million from unused state agency accounts, but the proposals were either pared down or failed to pass both chambers.

“Additional sweeps were proposed during the special session process, but the executive branch pushed back against those proposals, claiming the sweeps would cripple their ongoing operations,” Hunt said.

“We in the Legislature are committed to getting government spending under control and honoring our constituents’ outcries to cut government waste,” Armstead said. “Using money that’s already on hand is something this governor should have proposed before calling for the largest tax increase in the state’s history and asking to raid our rainy-day fund by $120 million. We welcome him to our way of thinking, even though he’s getting here a little late.”

Justice and lawmakers are still faced with an expected budget deficit of $450 million for next fiscal year.

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