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Both houses pass budgets, but issues lie directly ahead

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Both houses pass budgets, but issues lie directly ahead
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

Of all the numbers associated with the budget bills that passed both houses of the state Legislature on Wednesday, one stands out.

Two thirds.

That’s the number required to override a veto by Gov. Jim Justice, and it doesn’t look like either the Senate or the House of Delegates has it.

The House of Delegates passed its budget bill 58-42 a little after 8 p.m. Wednesday. Hours earlier, the Senate voted 20-14 to approve its budget bill, losing Republicans Jeff Mullins and Mike Maroney along the way.

Neither bill achieved the two-thirds majority required to set an effective date, which is a separate vote after the vote on the bill itself. That means a default date of three months out would be set.

Because the legislative session started late to account for the inauguration of a new governor, counting forward three months from April puts the effective date into July, after the new fiscal year has begun.

That’s a concern, although it could be something to resolve once a compromise budget is worked out in conference committee.

“It matters,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump said Wednesday night after both houses had passed their budgets.

“And I think what’ll happen is, if we have a budget ultimately that both houses have agreed upon and the governor agrees upon and signs into law then I think there will be enough votes to make the budget document effective from passage.”

It’s likely a moot point anyway, if Governor Justice vetoes the budget as he has said he will likely do.

“If the governor vetoes the budget, it requires two thirds to override the veto,” said Trump, R-Morgan. “So if you have enough votes to override a governor’s veto you have enough votes to make it effective when it needs to be.

“I think what’ll happen is when there’s a consensus among both houses of the Legislature and the governor about a budget for the next fiscal year the effective date issue will evaporate because people will get on board to vote for it then.”

Consensus is a key word because there isn’t that yet. At least not enough to get a bill past the governor or override him.

On Wednesday afternoon, Justice was surrounded by Democratic legislators as he discussed his feeling that the likelihood of reaching an agreement on the budget is fading.

“We’re not going to get a budget, or we’re surely not going to get a budget that has any sense to it,” Justice said.

“The budgets that are proposed by the House and the Senate both are budgets that will hurt our state, slow us down more and absolutely without a question will hurt a lot of people.”

The Senate’s $4.102 billion budget proposal makes good on the GOP leadership’s promise to keep spending in line with revenue estimates for the coming fiscal year. It would make significant cuts to higher education and healthcare spending.

The House’s $4.24 billion version would include a $137 million “broadening the base” tax proposal that includes a new tax on cellphones and landlines to raise millions in new revenue. It, too, cuts higher education and healthcare, but not as deeply. It does establish a single line item for higher education institutions and delegates cuts to the Higher Education Policy Commission.

“They’ve got two pathways and both of them are spinning off into crazy man’s land, in my opinion,” Justice said.

At that event, Justice signed a proclamation to bring the Legislature back into an extended session. That’s actually a normal part of the process to wrap up work on the budget over a few days after the regular session.

But in this case, Justice said he would specify only one day to make a budget final.

“We’re going nowhere. Absolutely nowhere,” Justice said. “And the reason I’m extending it one day is because in one day we ought to be able to get everything done. In regard to this budget, everything.”

Typically, an extended session goes for about three days. Trump doesn’t think the proclamation for just one day is necessarily a problem, though.

“I think it’s probably within his prerogative to extend one day,” Trump said. “That’s not to say he won’t do it seriatim, a day at a time. I guess that’s possible as well.”

The end of the regular session is midnight Saturday.