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Tomblin will veto “irresponsible” budget bill, spokesperson says

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Tomblin will veto “irresponsible” budget bill, spokesperson says
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

Expect a veto from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for the proposed $4 billion spending plan the Legislature approved during a Special Session this week ahead of the start of the 2017 Fiscal Year on July 1.

“It’s completely unworkable. It’s an irresponsible plan and it’s not one that the governor can support,” said Chris Stadelman, communications director for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s Administration.

As proposed, the budget the state Senate and state House of Delegates passed Thursday included more than $30 million in spending cuts, as much as $40 million in account sweeps and about $182 million from the Rainy Day Fund, West Virginia’s savings accounts, to fill a projected $270 million shortfall.

“He has said all along he will not sign a budget that takes $200 million out of the Rainy Day Fund. It would be completely irresponsible to sign it,” Stadelman said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” of Tomblin’s plans for the proposed budget.

Instead, Stadelman said Tomblin would most likely veto the spending plan and offer a “more specific proposal” in its place.

“There are going to have to be tax increases,” he maintained.

In addition to a 45 cent per pack increase to the state tax on cigarettes along with additional taxes for other tobacco products and new taxes on electronic cigarettes, Tomblin proposed a possible sales tax increase at the start of the Special Session along with a lifting of the telecommunications tax exemption as possible revenue generating measures.

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) claimed Republican legislative leaders, including Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06), a gubernatorial candidate, were attempting to delay additional taxes until after the November general election.

“I guarantee you the first thing they’re going to have to do when whoever is elected is to come in and raise revenue. They’re just trying to put a patch on it so they get through the election,” Kessler said.

Senator Ed Gaunch (R-Kanawha, 08) who voted for the proposed budget Thursday while remaining critical of it, called for a broader approach to West Virginia’s financial woes.

“Until we have somebody who sees the problem that the state needs to be right-sized, in terms of its spending, we’re never going to get there and the Legislature can’t do it in 60 or 70 or 80 days,” Gaunch said.

Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion, 50) called the Special Session for budget work, stretching for 13 days thus far, “a total disaster” and blamed Republicans, who lead both the House and Senate, for it.

As of Friday morning, lawmakers were not scheduled to return to Charleston to resume the Special Session before June 12.

“We’ve got, pretty much, a solid promise that the governor is going to veto this. We — as Democrats — wanted to stay in town, (then) if he vetoed it, roll up our sleeves, keep working, get right back to work but, no, they decided to send us home until the 12th,” Caputo said.

Earlier this week, the Senate starting again moving a tobacco tax hike bill that included an increase to the existing 55 cent state tax on cigarettes of 65 cents per pack, for $1.20 total. Previously in the Special Session, the House rejected a proposal for a 45 cent per pack hike.

In the Legislature’s budget bill reductions added up to about two percent for many agencies, across the board, with greater cuts in specific areas. Exempt agencies included higher education, the Division of Corrections, State Police and the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Possible areas for further cuts, Stadelman said, were going to be limited after years of state budget reductions topping $400 million.

New revenues, he said, will have to come from somewhere as part of a “long-term, structural plan to solve this budget.”

“(The budget years) ’18 and ’19 also have $380 million deficits based on the spending plan that was approved by the Legislature,” Stadelman said. “The governor wants to make sure that we have a responsible plan going forward and this absolutely is not it.”