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Legislators look to hash out budget before session closes

By CHARLIE BOOTHE

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — A local legislator said a budget will be hashed out this week in Charleston before this legislative session closes April 8, but the details remain “in flux.”

Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer County, has been spending long hours in the finance committee as legislators try to come to terms with a $500 million projected deficit next year.

“The Governor (Jim Justice) has made some moves from his original proposal,” he said. “The Senate and the House are jockeying around with what he wants to do but as yet there has not been a vote to accommodate any of what the Governor wants or what the House and Senate said they want. The budget is still out there and still to be done.”

A number of revenue bills are still be debated, he said, so it’s difficult to know where they will end up.

“This has been a particularly difficult year based on the change in revenue estimates and the actual numbers,” he said. “It’s been extremely difficult.”

Gearheart said the $500 million needed above what the Governor has proposed in his budget has resulted in a array of ways to generate more revenue, and most “are not amenable.”

Those include an extra tax on gasoline, cigarettes and sugary drinks.

Possible cuts are also being debated, he said.

“We are working on it,” he said. “The Governor has a little bit of an advantage because he can say what he will do. The Senate and House are disagreeing on what to do.”

The Governor’s proposed budget is $4.5 billion, well short of the projected revenue of just more than $4 billion.

Gearheart said the budget is not at a point it’s ready to be up for approval.

“It’s been a frustrating year,” he said. “I’ll tell you that.”

Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer County, said broadening the sales tax to raise extra revenue has impetus now, but work will continue on that proposal.

Ellington has also been supportive of examining expenses, and how efficient the state is with resources.

“We are trying not to impact too many people (with cuts),” he said.

But a proposed budget should be presented, he added.

“We intend to have one out before this session is over,” he said. “The Governor has been involved and the meeting of the minds is getting a lot closer.”

Del. Ed Evans (D-McDowell County) said he is cautious about cuts having too much negative impact on services in the state.

He also has expressed disdain for cuts made that mean jobs lost.

“I’m all about jobs,” he said.

Evans tried to retain 12 jobs in McDowell County and a total of 90 around the state by keeping the state’s courtesy patrol. A bill to eliminate the patrol, sponsored by Gearheart, passed the House and is in the Senate Finance Committee.

Justice has said he will keep the Legislature in session until a budget deal is reached.

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