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Senate Finance chair calls any tax hikes in New Year a “non-starter” with Legislature

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Senate Finance chair calls any tax hikes in New Year a “non-starter” with Legislature
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

A proposed budget that is not balanced with tax increases is what Senate Finance Committee Chair Mike Hall (R-Putnam, 04) said members of the Legislature want to see from Governor-elect Jim Justice in the New Year.

Hall pointed to the results of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed 2016 tax hikes, when only a tobacco tax hike was approved late in the process, as an indicator that there is “no will” for seeking additional revenues via taxes.

“I don’t want us to get into that again, where a governor comes to us and says, ‘Hey, here’s the money you’ve got to spend and you’re going to have to raise taxes to do it,'” Hall said.

“That’s just a non-starter with this Legislature. That’s not going to happen.”

As of Nov. 2, revenue collections for the current fiscal year in West Virginia were $87.4 million below estimates which prompted a mid-year budget reduction of about two percent for most state agencies from Tomblin.

Projections for potential shortfalls in the 2017-2018 budget have varied.

For the last two legislative sessions, Hall said he and those in his office have gone through the general revenue budget line by line, as Justice has said he plans to do.

Hall’s work continues ahead of the start of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.

“We’re beginning to find little things that could accumulate where you could resize, retool government, or whatever term you want to use, in order to save money (until the economy improves),” he said.

Special revenue accounts were also being reviewed, according to Hall. For accounts that collect fees, he told MetroNews there’s the possibility of redirecting that money to the general fund once certain thresholds are met.

He also saw possible savings through reforms to fleet management, employment law in higher education and “regulatory barriers” that may be hindering businesses.

In the end, “The governor is the one who has the main responsibility to dig into these agencies and realize that he’s got to make the expenditures of these agencies match the revenue that is or is not there,” Hall said.

During his campaign, Justice talked about pursuing a possible “bridge loan” for the state to address a shortfall.

“I give him the benefit of the doubt, but you cannot do a general revenue obligation loan without a vote of the public,” Hall noted. Instead, he said a better option would be to borrow money against the Rainy Day Fund, as is currently being done, if necessary.

Overall, “wiring together” a budget is how Hall described what state leaders will have to do, with Justice taking the lead, before the new fiscal year begins in July while the wait continues for better economic days in the Mountain State.

“We want a budget that we don’t get caught in a snafu headed toward a deadline,” Hall said.

Inauguration Day for Justice is Jan. 16.

The 2017 Regular Legislative Session is scheduled to open briefly on Jan. 11 for the election of officers and certification of election results.

Delegates and senators will then adjourn until Feb. 8 to, in part, give Justice time to finalize his proposals to the Legislature, including his budget proposal.