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House approves proposed 2017 budget with list of cuts, $143 million from Rainy Day funds

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House approves proposed 2017 budget with list of cuts, $143 million from Rainy Day funds
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

Five weeks ahead of the start of the 2017 fiscal year in West Virginia, the House of Delegates approved a budget bill with a 61-37 vote on Friday afternoon at the State Capitol and sent it on to the Senate for consideration after Memorial Day.

SEE THE ROLL CALL VOTE HERE.

Delegate Doug Reynolds (D-Cabell, 17) was the only Democrat to vote for the proposed House budget, while the three Republicans who joined all other House Democrats in opposing it were Delegate Michael Folk (R-Berkeley, 63), Delegate Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock, 01) and Delegate Michael Ihle (R-Jackson, 13).

Those not voting were Delegate Patsy Trecost (D-Harrison, 48) and Delegate Brian Kurcaba (R-Monongalia, 51).

In all, the spending plan totaled $4.088 billion, according to House Finance Committee Chair Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha, 35).

“What’s before you is a balanced budget,” he told House members on Friday morning, Day 10 of a Special Session.

Within the House budget were $48 million in spending cuts, roughly $48 million in account sweeps for one-time monies and $143 million from West Virginia’s Rainy Day Funds to address a projected $270 million shortfall in the budget that is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has previously said he would not allow such a large draw from West Virginia’s savings accounts.

After the House rejected the tobacco tax hike bill Tuesday that could have generated more than $75 million in new revenues next year, “We have quickly come together and what’s in front of us is a budget that will make sure government operations are fully funded as of July 1,” Nelson said.

This is not an exhaustive list, but Nelson highlighted the following areas within the 2017 budget during his presentation on Friday morning prior to the vote:

– The Legislature has make $8 million in cuts, including $2 million from the House of Delegates and $5 million from the Senate.

– The Supreme Court will see $2 million less for its pension plan.

– In the West Virginia executive and administrative offices, $11.2 in cuts were made total, what Nelson said amounted to about 10 percent in reductions “consistently across the board.” In one area, there was an addition with another $2 million put into the subsidy for the volunteer firefighter workers’ compensation program.

– A two percent across the board reduction will be implemented for the Commerce Department along with $3.6 million in targeted cuts. As within other agencies, funding was moved to unclassified areas to give agency heads discretion on where specifically to implement reductions.

– The Department of Education will see $4.9 million in targeted cuts but, Nelson noted, School Aid Formula funding will be maintained at its current levels. Education accounts for more than 40 percent of West Virginia’s general revenue, Nelson said.

– The Department of Education and the Arts is reduced by $2.1 million. There is also specific language cutting the budget for the Office of the Secretary for Education and the Arts in half and requesting that the office be eliminated halfway through the year, with the duties moved to other agencies. Kay Goodwin is the current secretary of Education and the Arts.

– The state Department of Environmental Protection will see a two percent across the board reduction.

– There are $200,000 in targeted cuts for the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Most of DHHR’s revenues are linked to federal funding. Nelson said there were no budget reductions for programs like early intervention, Health Right free clinics and IDD waivers among others.

– A two percent across the board reduction is part of the budget for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. The areas excluded from cuts are corrections, State Police and Capitol Police, according to Nelson.

– The Department of Revenue is cutting $7.9 million total, with the primary reduction being $2.7 million for a system upgrade. Nelson said that money had been moved “to the back of the budget” and, if there is a budget surplus at the end of 2017, the Department is in line for that funding.

– The Department of Veterans Assistance will see a two percent across the board decrease totaling $200,000.

Senior Services will be fully funded, Nelson said. The goal of those crafting the budget, he maintained, was not to touch higher education, corrections, K-12 education and areas that have federal matches.

In the House budget, there is $47 million in full funding for the Promise Scholarship, according to Nelson.

“We’ve spent a lot of time looking over this,” Nelson said of the proposed 2017 budget. “This funds many critical programs that we all (know are) in dire need, but most of all, our citizens are looking to us to take action.”

Critics of the bill called it “fictional” and predicted Tomblin would move quickly to veto all or part of it.

“It certainly is a starting point and I appreciate that,” said Delegate Jim Morgan (D-Cabell, 16) who again called for a one percent increase to West Virginia’s sales tax on the House floor Friday, a measure that, he said, could generate $200 million in new revenues and solve the majority of the budget issues.

“I can’t vote for this budget because I don’t think it’s the responsible thing to do,” said Delegate Tim Manchin (D-Marion, 50).

House members used metaphors that covered hats, cans, ticks and crabs while discussing the bill for more than two hours ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

The House of Delegates reconvenes at 1 p.m. Tuesday for the continuation of a Special Session that began on May 16. That is also the time when members of the Senate, who adjourned Friday morning with no budget action, are scheduled to return.