Government, Latest News, WVPA Sharing

Legislature completes budget with compromise cuts

HARLESTON — The Legislature completed a budget at about 10 p.m. Friday, ending months of debate on how to balance the state’s books.

The budget bill now goes to Gov. Jim Justice for action, but it was not immediately clear where he stands on this version.

The House and Senate compromised on spending cuts to come up with a $4.225 billion budget that looks a lot like the one the full House of Delegates passed Wednesday. When the House of Delegates refused a tax reform bill, the Senate re-worked the spending cuts at a level most lawmakers could accept.

The completed budget includes a 2.6 percent funding cut to higher education throughout the state, which amounts to about $7 million total. Marshall University and West Virginia University see 4.6 percent funding cuts in this plan.

Shepherd University’s funding was cut 2 percent, while Blue Ridge Community and Technical College’s funding was not cut at all. The reasoning was that the two Eastern Panhandle schools already had the lowest funding per pupil.

Medicaid is funded entirely in the completed budget, relying on $41 million in general revenue spending, $15 million in lottery surplus money and $15 million in excess lottery funds.

The budget cuts all funding for the Women’s Commission, but restores more funding to smaller programs, such as 21st Century Learners, Center for End of Life and veterans programs.

“I prefer the House version as it was sent over, but we have to come to an agreement with the Senate in some way,” House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, told delegates in explaining the final version of the bill before the vote.

“We have eliminated the heavier cuts in earlier versions and done what we can,” Cowles said. “We must find agreement with the Senate.”

The House approved the bill by a vote of 64-25.

In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, told members the budget didn’t make the state “look, in my opinion, healthy yet” to bond agencies, but he pointed out it does not take any funds from the rainy-day fund.

The budget does not include teacher pay raises or any of Gov. Jim Justice’s requested “Save Our State” funds.

“We’re back to basically funding the core budgetary demands,” Hall said.

Other overall funding cuts in the budget were to public education and the Office of Education and the Arts.

Hall said the budget cuts roughly $4.2 million in public education from what Justice had originally proposed, but those cuts were vetted with the state superintendent of schools.

“We’re just up against a constitutional hard date, and this is the budget process,” Hall said before the Senate vote. “Because of the refusal on the part of the House of Delegates to act upon what I thought … was a pretty good bill that went out of here last night, and we’re stuck with the state and the citizens of our state want to know.

“Is this a happy moment? No. But this is a constitutional obligation that we’re required to fill.”

Hall said the reality of the budget process was that members were days away from what they had been told were drop-dead dates for a government shutdown.

“I think what we’re doing is responding to what the House sent us,” Hall said. “All I can say is this is a balanced budget. It is constitutional. Maybe it’s tight and uses one-time money, but it’s constitutional.”

Hall said the budget continues to fund pension obligations, which is good for bond ratings, and the state’s rainy-day fund is still strong.

“I can’t support this,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said before the vote. “This is a terrible budget, and we know this is the third year in a row we’re going to kick the can down the road.”

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 19-8.

The budget bill was contingent on the completion of two roads bills to generate revenue — Senate Bill 1003, relating to the West Virginia Parkways Authority and tolls, and Senate Bill 1006, increasing funding for the State Road Fund. Senate Bill 1003 was still under debate as of press time.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address