The Charleston Gazette-Mail
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In a floundering start to a special session convened to create a budget for the coming fiscal year, the House of Delegates has rejected two versions of the same budget framework, the Legislature has recessed until May 15 and West Virginia’s budget dilemma remains unresolved.
After a long day of meetings Friday, the Senate passed a bill 32-1 that would have slashed income taxes, lowered coal severance taxes, eliminated natural gas severance taxes and imposed a variation of Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed “millionaire tax.”
Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, was the lone no vote.
However, the House of Delegates, convening immediately after the Senate voted, rejected the bill on a 59-34 vote. It rejected a similar version of the bill late Thursday, as well, on a 59-36 vote.
Before Friday’s action, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said that, regardless of how he thinks the House might vote, all he and the Senate could do is put the best foot forward and see how it plays out.
“We can control what we do in this body, and we’re providing tax cuts for West Virginians and their families,” he said.
Carmichael defended the bill, which some have said cuts taxes but ends up costing taxpayers more money through the broadened sales tax base and increased fees.
“What this purely and simply is, when you vote for or against this bill, you’re voting on a tax cut,” he said. “There’s no other way to describe this. Anyone that votes against this bill, is voting against a tax cut for working West Virginia families.”
However, the House Republicans took an adamant position against the bill by voting down a motion made by House Democrats to refer the bill to the that chamber’s Finance Committee for revisions.
“How will we help the will of the people if we keep killing bills on first reading?” asked Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, who made the motion.
After rebutting comments from House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, the House squashed the motion before killing the bill altogether.
After both votes Friday, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the House needs to be involved in negotiations with the Senate and the governor, reiterating his complaint from the past several weeks that delegates had been left out.
In an interview before the vote, Armstead said it was no secret that the House would strike down the Senate’s bill. He said it was just a waste of time.
“I think the continued insistence on this piece of legislation is just going to delay us [from] reaching a budget resolution,” Armstead said. “It’s just going to be costing the taxpayers every day that we continue to chase this bill. I don’t think the House could have made its position any clearer than it did last night [Thursday]. This piece of legislation is not going to be adopted by the House.”
Justice called a news conference after the House vote, at which he lashed out at House Republicans for sending an otherwise unanimous budget into the trash. He said that if the state government were a stool, four of the five legs (the governor, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans and House Democrats) are all keeping it upright while the fifth leg is acting “strangely.”
He again denied claims from Armstead that the House had been left out of the negotiating process, and said that chamber has made it clear that it will not negotiate.
“Do you really believe by their actions that they really want to compromise? That they really want to talk? Or they really want to negotiate?” he said. “If they wanted to do that, then why didn’t they just send this to committee, send some of their members back out to the Senate to work. They really don’t want to do that, and that’s what I ran into over and over again.”
Before Friday’s votes and the ultimate decision to recess, Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said the stalemate is evidence that the special legislative session was convened prematurely.
With all the infighting, the pathway forward is unclear. Armstead said he was ready to begin negotiating a new budget plan as soon as Friday night. During his news conference, Justice said he would be willing, as well.
The Legislature is scheduled to reconvene May 15.
Phil Kabler contributed to this report.
Reach Jake Zuckerman at [email protected], 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.
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