By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
Republican leaders of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates released a “budget framework” on Monday, March 13 that would include no more spending than last year’s budget.
“The fundamental principle is spend no more than you have,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “The budget for too long has been chosen by those who want to raise taxes, not control spending.”
Coming on day 34 of the 83rd legislative session, Carmichael called the proposed budget plan the result of “bold, aggressive, conservative leadership.” The budget calls for spending of no more than $4.055 billion.
Last year’s budget was about $4.2 billion, while the budget proposed by Gov. Jim Justice comes to about $4.5 billion. But Carmichael and Armstead said, like a family, state officials can no longer afford to live beyond their means.
But the House and Senate leaders conceded getting to a budget of $4.055 billion will not be easy, especially with a projected budget deficit estimated between $450 million and $500 million.
“We’re not talking about cuts in that sense,” said Armstead. “What we’re talking about is drawing the line.” He said it was time for state officials to hold steady and stop growing government year after year.
Carmichael said the budget will require looking at cuts in areas historically considered all but untouchable by lawmakers, including the Department of Health and Human Resources, higher education and K-12 education. But, at least as far as public education is concerned, “we’re talking about the state-level bureaucracy,” Carmichael said. “That’s where we’re going to start with these reductions.”
The Republican budget proposal so far includes:
- eliminating Justice’s $105 million Save Our State infrastructure fund; smoothing payments to the teachers’ retirement system, saving about $43 million;
- continuing 2 percent mid-year budget cuts implemented by former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, saving about $21 million;
- cutting a 2 percent teacher pay raise suggested by Justice, saving another $21 million;
- eliminating greyhound and casino modernization subsidies, saving about $24 million;
- doing away with a $5.6 million increase in the budget for tourism advertising proposed by the governor;
- redirecting $69 million in transfers from the Workers’ Compensation fund and lottery surplus;
- doing away with an $11.7 million transfer to the Division of Highways; and
- raising the beer barrel tax from $5.50 to $8, increasing revenues by $2.8 million and raising the wholesale liquor markup from 28 to 32 percent.
That would leave a revenue gap of about $150 million to make up through cuts or other measures.
“These actions will be difficult, but we owe it to our citizens to do everything we can to make their government run more efficiently without constantly asking for more money from taxpayers,” Armstead said. “Our citizens have asked us to make tough choices to get government growth under control, and this budget will do just that.”