By JOSELYN KING
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — If it isn’t vetoed, West Virginia’s state budget bill passed early Sunday wouldn’t go into effect until July 8 — leaving the state without financial direction for the first week of the upcoming fiscal year.
Lawmakers already expect Gov. Jim Justice to veto the bill. But if he doesn’t, it brings into question what will occur during July 1-8 as state agencies have no spending authority.
“He will have to veto it,” state Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said of Justice and the budget. “It puts him in the position where he will have to veto the bill and call for a special session. Then he will have to tell his own people (Democratic legislators) to get on board. We can’t have a period where we don’t have a budget.”
The issue about the effective date arose early Sunday as House members passed House Bill 2018 — the state budget bill for next year — along party lines with vote of 64-36. After this, there was a second vote to make the bill effective from the date of passage, and a two-thirds majority was needed.
This motion failed with the same 64-36 tally, meaning HB 2018 wouldn’t take effect until 90 days after passage, or July 8.
Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, admitted she was puzzled as to what might happen with state expenditures the week of July 1.
“Would there be a shutdown for payouts for the first seven days?” she asked. “After a budget is in place, there would be money allotted to cover the spending. But what happens in the interim?”
Jared Hunt, House communications director, said legislative leaders are aware of the discrepancy with the bill’s effective date, and have been discussing a number of options for how to address the problem.
The proposed budget already calls for the transfer of $90 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund into the general fund budget. This could be done to start the year, he said.
State lawmakers also could be called back for a special session during interims to change the effective date, according to Hunt.
“Everyone realizes there is a factor in play with this,” he said. “Because we have a new governor, this is a delayed year at the Legislature. We started a month later. Any other year, there wouldn’t be a problem with the budget being effective in 90 days.
“And most state agencies would have cash flow in accounts that could be used to cover the first week. Even though it’s a week without spending authority, departments are sitting on unused cash,” Hunt continued. “Typically, the first week the state is out of reserves, and we borrow money out of the Rainy Day Fund, anyway. There is always a transfer and a payback.”
Justice has until Friday to veto HB 2018. He also could sign the bill, or take no action and allow it to become law.
Storch said she has yet to hear if and when state lawmakers might be called back to Charleston by Justice.
“I’m hoping he doesn’t because I like being (home), not there,” she said. “I think he is just letting everybody get out, get calmed down and back to normal life for a couple days.”
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