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Legislative leaders reflect on special session, budget


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Legislature adjourned its special session Monday after 21 days.

Lawmakers passed eight bills, including the budget. and the governor vetoed one bill dealing with the sale of the Jackie Withrow longterm care facility in Beckley.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he is glad the special session has concluded but said he felt it was unnecessary.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, left, and Del. Tim Armstead.
(Photo by WV Legislative Photography)

“Truthfully, we passed a budget the last night of session, or the 61st day right after midnight,” Armstead said. “And so I have felt from Day 1 that this has been unnecessary for us to have a special session. Having had that session, I’m very pleased we reached a budget that will keep our government open July 1. I know not everyone loves it but it is a responsible budget. I’ve said that before and I still believe it.

“It’s never easy to make reductions but we have been experiencing a downturn in our energy sector, a declining population and we’ve done a lot of things to try to turn that around but in the meantime, we can’t afford to fund government at the level we’ve been funding it.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also said he did not think the special session was necessary because the Legislature had passed the budget the last night of the regular session.

“We produced a budget in historically fast time within the regular session,” he said. “We did that and the governor vetoed it. I’m not being critical of the governor because he wanted to do a bigger, bolder initiative and the Senate shared that vision of overhauling the tax system and creating more jobs, growth and opportunity. At the end of the day, we were not able to come to terms with our colleagues in the House but we set the stage for fundamental overhaul in West Virginia’s tax structure.”

Last week, Gov. Jim Justice announced he would let the budget bill become law without his signature, calling it a “travesty.” He expressed his concerns about budget cuts and using surplus money to backfill Medicaid and higher education.

The budget rearranged line items, including surplus funds from lottery and excess lottery and takes money out of the Senate’s savings account to fill in some of the effects to Medicaid.

Armstead disagreed with Justice’s description of the budget. He said what he considered a “travesty” was spending time in the special session debating the revenue bill, which included income tax reductions and an increase in the sales tax.

“We knew very early on in the special session that the plan the governor put forward wasn’t going to pass,” Armstead said. “It wasn’t going to get any support in the House and we should have abandoned that much earlier. We came up with different proposals earlier that the Senate and the governor did not accept. That’s why we were here as long as we were.”

The Legislature did not take up a bill that would allow for the furlough of state employees in a fiscal emergency. The bill was sent to conference committee last week. Armstead said there are still discussions about the bill in the House and the Senate judiciary committees and said he hopes to take up the bill later.

“We want to take that and continue to work on that in committee,” Armstead said. “Hopefully, we never have to use it but I do think that it is one thing that’s happened is there are really not the necessary procedures and mechanisms in place were we to ever not reach a budget by July 1 but we should have those in place even if we don’t anticipate it ever occurring. We want to continue to look at that and continue discussions with the Senate and likely come forward with something.”

Carmichael said he also sees the Senate taking up the furlough bill in the regular session.

“There were differences in the committee process between the House and Senate versions and we did not want to get into that scenario when it’s not necessary currently,” Carmichael said. “I believe the state should have a furlough policy but obviously, it’s not necessary at the moment.”

In vetoing a bill to sell the Jackie Withrow Hospital, Justice said that he felt it would be a mistake to single out the Beckley-based hospital and that the sale of the state medical facilities must be part of a comprehensive plan. He said he wanted the Legislature to adopt the full DHHR plan to revitalize state facilities.

Armstead said he sees the issue coming up again in the next regular session.

“Let’s keep in mind this was the governor’s own bill that he vetoed,” Armstead said. “We had a great deal of debate and discussion on those two bills — the Jackie Withrow bill and the Hopemont bill — I believe this is something we will continue to look at but there are a lot of concerns whether precautions were in place to ensure the safety and well-being of those patients so let’s continue those discussions and work through any issues.”

Carmichael said he sees the Senate taking up Jackie Withrow and Hopemont in the regular session.

“We ran into some problems with the other hospital so the governor wants it as a package,” Carmichael said. “I anticipate we will take a thorough review and hopefully take action in the regular session of next year.”

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