Carmichael, Armstead implore Justice to sign budget bill
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews
Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead don’t know if the governor is going to sign their budget bill or not — but they say he should.
Both legislative leaders appeared this morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” Like others, they are wondering what action Gov. Jim Justice will take on the $4.225 billion budget the Legislature passed late Friday.
“He may veto it. I wouldn’t be surprised. But I would encourage him to sign it,” Carmichael said.
A third option besides a signature or a veto would be letting the budget bill go into effect without a signature. That would happen after five days.
Carmichael said the governor might as well take action one way or another, though.
“Not signing it and just letting it go into law — either you sign it or you don’t,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.
The budget that passed was not Justice’s favored plan. The governor already vetoed one budget that passed at the end of the regular session. That’s why lawmakers had to come back in for a special session.
After weeks of debate and with no agreement on a path to raise revenue, the Senate and House went with a budget that spends only within the estimated $4.225 billion in revenue for the coming year.
That plan does keep Medicaid spending level through use of transfers and expected surpluses. And this version of the budget cuts higher education by an estimated $16 million.
The higher education spending reduction caused outcry among Democrats — and also raised some misgivings among Republicans.
But in the end, most lawmakers said they were finally up against deadline and had to get something passed, even if it wasn’t perfect. They adjourned until June 26.
Justice had preferred a budget of $4.35 billion, which would have required tax increases of some sort.
The budget bill that did pass doesn’t have the governor’s preferred State of the State funding, a teacher pay raise or his tiered coal severance tax proposal.
The state is right up on a deadline that leaders had described as the drop-dead date to have a budget plan that would continue to guarantee state payroll.
Because of the deadline, Speaker Armstead hopes Justice will let the budget become law one way or another.
“I certainly hope that if he can’t sign it that he will let it become law. Because what is the alternative?” said Armstead, R-Kanawha.
Armstead said the budget wound up not being what a lot of people wanted. But revenue estimates that were increased toward the end of the special session allowed lawmakers to avoid deeper cuts to programs.
“It is a budget that no one loves,” Armstead said. But, he said, “This is a responsible budget.”
House Minority Leader Tim Miley didn’t vote for the budget, objecting to its cuts to higher education.
Miley believes the governor will let the budget become law, though.
“My instinct is (the budget) will become law,” said Miley, D-Harrison.
Miley said he would have pushed for additional revenue, pointing to a House proposal to extend the sales tax to additional economic sectors.
“I’m very disappointed the Senate didn’t accept the House’s additional revenue,” Miley said. “If I were in charge, I don’t know that I would have relented just because the Senate wouldn’t vote for it.”
Without additional revenue, Miley is concerned that the state will end up back in one of these budget battles when the Legislature returns in January.
“We’re going to be back here in the same situation next year, I fear,” he said.
If that happens, Miley said, voters would have a recourse during the 2018 midterm elections.
“Elections matter. If you want to avoid this in years going forward, we hold people accountable,” he said.
State Treasurer John Perdue and Auditor J.B. McCuskey were the state officials who would have to carry through on many of the details of a state government shutdown.
Both appeared on “Talkline” today and said they feel much more confident that a shutdown will not occur.
“The threat level has definitely been reduced,” McCuskey said.
Perdue said of the governor, “I think he’s either going to sign it or let it go into law.”
Both officials said state employees have continued to be very concerned.
“The governor, in my opinion, needs to make as quick a decision as possible,” McCuskey said. “Certainty is important.
“It’s important that all of our citizens have the certainty that our government is stable.”