By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — The next move for West Virginia lawmakers working to pass a 2018 budget is to go home for 10 days.
A special session of the Legislature adjourned Friday after Senate members passed a revenue bill needed for the budget, and House members voted immediately to reject it without further action or discussion.
It was the second consecutive day in which the House voted to reject the revenue bill crafted by Senate Republican leadership and Gov. Jim Justice.
The vote to reject the revenue measure was 59-34. As was the case Thursday, local delegates split along party lines, with Republicans voting to reject the measure and Democrats voting against the motion to reject. Delegates Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, and William “Roger” Romine, R-Tyler, did not vote.
The Legislature will reconvene the special session at 11 a.m. on May 15.
“Today we had the opportunity to fully vet a bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly and House leadership refused to even report the bill to finance committee,” said Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. “It’s clear their intent isn’t to compromise on public policy, but rather continue political stunts at taxpayers’ expense.”
Although he voted to reject the revenue bill, Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, took issue with the move to leave Charleston for 10 days.
“Leaving without finishing the job not only neglects our duty in a way, but provides state lawmakers who live in or near Charleston the upper hand,” he said. “Many of the politicians in higher leadership positions are from the capital city. They have very little incentive to reduce government spending in the budget, as most of the spending takes place within Charleston, to their benefit. Conversely, these ‘Charlestonian’ politicians have a strong incentive to increase taxation — which would extract more money from border areas — and amplify over-spending in Charleston.”
Prior to the move to reject the revenue bill, Delegate Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, made a motion to refer the measure to the House Finance Committee. His motion was rejected by a vote of 34-58.
House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, on the House floor asked Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, why the bill should not be referred to a committee.
“Why disregard the work of the Senate over the last 24 hours?” Miley asked. “At least that would give us something to work on, and an opportunity to come back. … Objecting to that after the Senate did all this work sends the message we’re not interested in passing a budget — and I think that sends a bad message.”
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, was among those voting to reject the revenue bill.
“We’ve got to get these people together in the same room to get a compromise bill with mutual support — instead of all the name-calling and political posturing going on that’s hurting the state of West Virginia. There has been a lot of talks between the Senate and House, and a lot of rumors. We need to get past this so the people of West Virginia have some certainty in our ability to come up with a budget,” Storch said.
Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said the House’s action came as no surprise to the Senate. Storch and other delegates had walked down the hall to the Senate chamber prior to the Senate’s vote, and members were made aware a rejection by the House was upcoming.
“We have adjourned for (10 days), and I advocated for two weeks,” Ferns said. “This gives everybody a chance to cool down. There was a lot of tension on all sides today. The bills the governor’s office was sending — those in which there had been an agreement between the governor and the Senate — didn’t include the things we were talking about. Even the relationship between the two parties that were supposed to have reached agreement were strained, and that took some time today.”
Ferns said there will be no further discussion on the budget with the governor’s office unless members of the House are involved.
“That’s how we move forward,” he said.
Each day of a special legislative session costs West Virginia taxpayers more than $30,000. Earlier in the day Friday, legislation to limit the number of days members of the Legislature could receive compensation during an extended a special session to just five days was introduced by Miley, Fluharty and other Democratic delegates.
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