Lawmakers take little action on budget

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Members of the West Virginia Legislature returned to Charleston on Monday with a goal for compromise with 25 days to go before the state could shut down from the lack of an operating budget for fiscal year 2018.

Party leaders talk in the West Virginia House of Delegates on Monday. From left, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison; House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; and House Majority Whip Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.
(Photo by Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography)

No significant official action took place in either legislative chamber, as members used their time to learn where they stood on the provisions of the latest revenue proposal affecting the state’s sales tax and income taxes to generate revenue for the state for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1.

Members of the Senate and the West Virginia House of Delegates each convened for sessions lasting less than 30 minutes on Monday, during which time committee meetings were scheduled, chief among them being a House Finance Committee meeting set for 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 6.

Members of that committee will spend at least a portion of that meeting examining the proposed budget for 2018, even if the revenue measures to support it haven’t been agreed upon, House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said.

Gov. Jim Justice and party leaders in both legislative bodies tentatively agreed that the state should be looking to spend about $4.35 billion to operate the government in fiscal year 2018, which is about midway between Justice’s original $4.5 billion proposal and Republican majority leaders’ proposal of $4 billion made during the regular legislative session.

Now, Justice and lawmakers are working to compromise on the revenue measures that they hope and estimate will bring in enough money to operate the government.

Following about a week-and-a-half-long period of negotiations among the governor and majority and minority party leaders in both chambers, Nelson said he was optimistic that a compromise was near.

But various aspects of the tax rate proposals and sales tax exemptions were either must-haves or non-starters for different groups, and House Minority Leader Tim Miley said time spent at the Capitol on Monday was about seeing where various groups stood on those provisions.

“When you don’t have 51 votes, all of whom want the same plan, you need to modify the plan a bit to make sure you get the 51 votes,” Miley said.

Miley said it was difficult to get into too many specifics about any proposed revenue plan Monday, saying it was very likely the plan would change.

Fiscal year 2018 begins July 1, 2017, and the state government would shut down if a budget isn’t passed.

The Legislature passed a budget on April 9 that Justice vetoed on April 17.

Monday was the 11th day of the first special session of the 83rd West Virginia Legislature that began May 4.

Lawmakers adjourned May 5, saying they would use the following week to negotiate a tax and budget plan. They reconvened May 15.

In his memo, Casey asked the nine secretaries to develop plans for how their departments would proceed in the event that the Legislature and Justice do not approve a budget in enough time to implement it at the start of fiscal year 2018.

He also said a budget needed to be in place by June 19, 2017, to make the necessary accounting and system adjustments to start a new budget year.

After seven days in session, lawmakers voted to adjourn on May 24, with the understanding that they would return on June 5, and legislative party leaders would negotiate with the governor in the interim time period.

Justice separately met with Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats, House Republicans, and House Democrats during the intervening week and a half.

The cost for the legislative session is $35,000 per day if every lawmaker is present in both chambers when both legislative bodies convene.

The Senate will reconvene at 11 a.m. Tuesday, and the House of Delegates will reconvene at noon Tuesday.

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