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Nearly $200 million from Rainy Day Fund now in proposed 2017 budget

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Nearly $200 million from Rainy Day Fund now in proposed 2017 budget
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Though he admitted he does not like taking nearly $200 million from West Virginia’s Rainy Day Fund to balance the state’s budget for 2017, House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 48) sees that as the best option for lawmakers right now — nearly three weeks into a Special Session and less than a month ahead of the start of the new fiscal year.

“We said from Day One, we need to find the area that we can get the majority of the Legislature to accept and that is where we are,” Armstead said Thursday prior to floor sessions for members of both the state House of Delegates and state Senate.

Before the close of the day Thursday, Day 13 of the Special Session, legislative leaders indicated the two chambers could finalize a budget bill that included $193 million in Rainy Day money, along with a combination of agency account sweeps and cuts to fill a projected $270 million shortfall in the budget that’s scheduled to take effect on July 1.

As of Thursday morning, no tax increases were part of the budget bill.

Armstead and others legislative leaders, though, were not ruling out future new revenue measures along with additional cuts that could be implemented later in the fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the Senate, which has already twice approved tobacco tax bills, started moving another tobacco tax bill with a 65 cent per pack increase to the state tax on cigarettes.

“We have tried and tried and tried to pass these revenue measures that the governor put forth in the Special Session call and his own party won’t support them,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04).

In addition to tobacco tax hikes with 45 cents per pack more for cigarettes, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s revenue proposals also included a possible sales tax increase and the lifting of the existing telecommunications tax exemption. None have found enough support within the Legislature to pass.

Of the current proposal to instead take about a fourth of what is currently banked in the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget, “Can we do that every year? No. Are we wanting to do that every year? No, obviously we’re not,” Armstead said.

“But to get us through this transition based on the downturn that we’ve seen in our energy sector and to continue to be able to work some of these cuts and to make sure that we do them in the most responsible way, I think this is the right way to go.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison, 48) called the predicted passage a futile effort since, up to now, Tomblin has repeatedly indicated he would not support a budget that depends so much on Rainy Day money.

“We could have done this in the first three days if all we’re going to do is pass a budget with all that Rainy Day money being used, knowing the governor is going to veto it,” Miley said.

Armstead rejected claims Tomblin would veto the proposed budget outright.

Following what Armstead called “productive” meetings with Tomblin in recent days, “I don’t think he has decided he’s going to veto this at all,” Armstead said. “Certainly, that’s his decision.”

Carmichael said the Rainy Day amount, in personal his view, was “too much,” but continued, “At this point, it’s the absolute best that we can do.”

Armstead, Miley and Carmichael were all guests on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

The Special Session began on May 16.