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Auditor: Fiscal year to begin with 'no ill effects' from late budget passage

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Auditor: Fiscal year to begin with 'no ill effects' from late budget passage
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After months spent under the threat of a possible state government shutdown, the start of the 2018 Fiscal Year in West Virginia this coming Saturday will be a smooth one, according to state Auditor J.B. McCuskey.

No state government service or payroll disruptions are expected on July 1.

“By the good work of people in our office and other people in the budget office and throughout the agencies, particularly over the weekend, we are on track to experience no ill effects of the late passage of the budget,” McCuskey reported on Monday morning.

Governor Jim Justice opted to let the Legislature’s $4.225 billion budget take effect without his signature. That happened this past Saturday, June 24 more than a week after passage in Special Session on the night of June 16.

McCuskey said, throughout state government, there was a scramble. “I am particularly proud of the folks in my office who really busted their humps to get it done,” he said.

In general, Justice had wanted a $4.35 billion budget that bolstered revenue by raising the sales tax to 6.5 percent and extending it to additional economic sectors. He’d also backed income tax reductions.

Justice’s proposed revenue measures, though, were sticking points in negotiations between the state Senate and state House of Delegates dating back to the 2017 Regular Legislative Session and lasting through 20 days of a Special Session.

As a result, the Legislature’s budget was finalized with no revenue increases, transfers and expected surpluses utilized to fulfill Medicaid spending and a $16 million cut to higher education.

Other spending reductions have been made to tourism, fairs and festivals and arts programs.

If not for the July 1 deadline, Justice said he would have vetoed the spending plan. “We can’t afford to shut the government down and become the No. 1 thing on headline news tonight,” he said last week.

Throughout the shutdown scare, McCuskey said state employees wanted information.

“It was pretty remarkable the amount of slack my office took up communications-wise. It seemed like all of that burden fell upon our folks and they really did a good job of calming people down and making them understand what the process was,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t have any control over what it was, but we did have control over providing accurate and timely information and oftentimes that will do a lot to satiate people’s fears.”

McCuskey said many lessons about the state government shutdown process were learned this year and last year under Lisa Hopkins, interim auditor, an appointee of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

“If this were to happen again next year — which I don’t think it’s going to — if it were to happen again, we will really have a good start on where we need to be to make sure we’re prepared,” McCuskey said.

Both professionally and personally, it was a busy weekend for McCuskey. He and his wife, Wendy, welcomed their second daughter to the family.