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Session call includes tax increases, authority to lay off workers

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Session call includes tax increases, authority to lay off workers
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

JULIAN, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s special session call for the state legislature includes three proposed tax increases, sweeping unused money in various accounts, dipping into the Rainy Day Fund and a bill allowing him to layoff state workers, if necessary.

The call was issued late Thursday with the special session set to begin Monday. Gov. Tomblin told MetroNews earlier Thursday he’s calling lawmakers back to Charleston without widespread agreement on his proposals.

“We have tried and I think the Senate will work and probably get a budget, hopefully, fairly quickly, we’re still having problems with the House,” Tomblin said.

The special session call doesn’t include any spending cuts which some lawmakers have said are necessary heading into the new budget year that has a $270 million revenue hole. Tomblin has opted instead for a tobacco tax increase, an increase in the consumer sales tax of no more than one percent and a telecommunications tax. Lawmakers rejected the tobacco tax increase and telecommunications tax during the 60-day regular session. They also rejected some of Tomblin’s budget cut proposals.

Tomblin said the state budget has been cut significantly in the last three years now a revenue boost is necessary. The legislature needs to get to work, he said.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. People don’t know what they’re going to be doing about their Public Employees Insurance. We’ve got parents, educators and students worried about the Promise Scholarship,” he said.

The special session agenda also includes a bill that would generate $63.8 million to fill a revenue hole in the current state budget. Of that amount, $34.8 million would come from the sweeping of various accounts and $29 million would come from the state Rainy Day Fund.

The bill impacting the employment of state workers would authorize the governor “to furlough state employees in the event of certain fiscal emergencies.”

House Speaker Tim Armstead released the following statement Thursday evening:

“After weeks of discussions on a balanced approach to closing our state’s budget gap, it’s disappointing that, with this call, the Governor has decided to place the entire burden of this nearly $300 million deficit on the backs of the taxpayers.

“While we’re pleased this special session will allow us the opportunity to craft a responsible, balanced budget – one which fully funds our critical programs, such as PEIA and the PROMISE Scholarship – we call upon the governor to work with us to approve a plan that does not close this budget gap entirely with additional money from taxpayers’ pockets.”

Approximately 20 House members have previously signed a no tax increase pledge. Various factions in the 100-member House are making coming to an agreement on a new budget difficult, according to the governor.

“I think it’s just an array of different groups in the House that are not necessarily working together,” Tomblin said.

The special session begins at noon Monday.