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WV House rejects budget: New session starts with much waiting


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va. — After a long day of sitting and waiting for legislation to be presented, West Virginia House of Delegates members Thursday quickly rejected a measure to raise the state’s sales tax while decreasing income tax rates — a key component of a plan to achieve a state budget for 2018.

State lawmakers convened in Charleston Thursday morning for the first day of a special session called by Gov. Jim Justice for the purpose of setting a general revenue fund budget for next year. But they spent much of the day sitting idly at the State Capitol, awaiting the “revenue bundling” measure still being crafted by Justice and Senate leadership.

House leadership was not involved in any of the budget-related bills prepared for the special session.

The House received the legislation after 4 p.m. Thursday, and a move was quickly made to bypass the required three readings of the revenue measure and immediately reject it on its first reading.

The motion to reject passed by a 59-36 vote, along party lines.

Among those voting to reject the revenue bill were Delegates Patrick McGeehan and Mark Zatezalo, both R-Hancock; and Erikka Storch, R-Ohio. William “Roger”Romine, R-Tyler, was one of five delegates not voting on the motion.

Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio

Voting against the motion to reject the bill were Delegates Joe Canestraro and Mike Ferro, both D-Marshall; Phil Diserio, D-Brooke; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; and David Pethtel, D-Wetzel.

The revenue bill shot down contained a 1-cent-per-dollar increase in the state sales tax, while also reducing overall income tax collections in the state by about 20 percent.

Among its other provisions were a plan to institute a graduated system of assessing coal and gas severance taxes, and placing a sales tax on telecommunication services.

Three other bills also were introduced during the special session, and these were assigned to the House Finance Committee. The bills address road funding, tolls for the West Virginia Turnpike, and a 2-percent raise for teachers.

After the House session, Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said Justice had made a “premature” and “irresponsible” decision to call the special session. He criticized Justice for not consulting with House leadership on the crafting of the bills, but called for a needed compromise.

“I think it is time for us to take a break, get House and Senate leadership and the governor in a room and listen to each other,” Armstead said.

“Then maybe we can find the middle ground. … I think we can do better, and we will do better.”

The House is set to reconvene at 11 a.m. today, although members aren’t certain what will transpire.

“We will have to see what the Senate is going to do,” Fluharty said. “House leadership has showed they won’t go to the table, and that the revenue stream bill is dead in the House. Leadership has shown no interest in compromising whatsoever. The Senate and the governor have worked together on a bill they thought was a compromise, and now House leadership are being obstructionists. …

“The bill presented was the best compromise we could reach this time, but we didn’t have a chance to discuss it,” Fluharty continued. “It didn’t get to go through the process and have a fair shot. This flies in the face of democracy, what taxpayers expect out of legislators — especially leadership.”

McGeehan said he typically prefers discussion on legislative manners, but was “indifferent” in this case.

“Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail, and we will have a budget soon without extracting more money from taxpayers,” he said.

“Our population is declining, and it seems immoral to continue to place more taxation on our residents. At some point, the growth of bureaucracies has to stop. If it doesn’t, I just feel our children will have fewer chances for a brighter future.”

Storch said she voted against the measure because her constituents told her they opposed increases in the state sales tax, which would likely affect border counties.

“I have no clue on what is going to happen — this is foreign territory to me,” she said. “Hopefully, the governor’s office and leadership can come together and have productive conversations.”

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said he also doesn’t know what direction budget discussions will take.

“This doesn’t leave us with many options,” he said of the House’s action Thursday.

“The revenue bill was a key component for our budget. The House rejected it, so there is no sense in our attempting to pass it. The only option I see now is for us to return home and come up with another plan both the Senate and the House can agree to.”

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