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Cole: Tough budget decisions await new Legislature

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By Shauna Johnson
WV MetroNews 

The next state Senate President says Republican leaders are trying to look at “the whole picture” when it comes to the state’s budget.

“I can promise you we’re going to dig deep,” said Sen. Bill Cole (R-Mercer) ahead of the start of the 2015 Regular Legislative Session on Wednesday.

Budget talk is expected to again dominate the session, one Republicans will lead in the state Senate and state House of Delegates for the first time in more than eight decades, as falling energy prices and other factors continue to drive down West Virginia’s revenue collections.

Projections are calling for a $200 million hole in the 2016 FY budget.

According to a report from Fitch Ratings, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will propose pulling $85 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help balance the budget — the same kind of move that was taken for the current budget.

Cole is not a fan of the idea as a first choice. “It’s certainly not something that we want to do,” he said. Instead, he favors finding ways to cut spending. “We want to try to and figure out ways that we can balance the budget without touching that. I guess that’s what ‘rainy day’ is about.”

By this Wednesday, a number of state agencies, including Gov. Tomblin’s office, must submit comprehensive financial reports detailing operations to GOP legislators for review.

But Cole noted any identified cuts to state operations, services or programs will only address West Virginia’s budget issues in the short-term. For the long-term, he said, more comprehensive revenue-generating steps must be taken.

“It does all come back to jobs and job creation and broadening that tax base,” Cole said. “We have obligations to take care of all those programs, our kids and our elderly, but it’s hard to do it on less and less money — or to do it effectively.”

Cole, a car dealer from Mercer County, was first appointed to the Legislature as a member of the state House of Delegates in 2010 and was elected to the state Senate in 2012.

He’ll be sitting behind Gov. Tomblin, along with new House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha), when Tomblin delivers his State of the State Address on Wednesday night at the State Capitol.

The 2015 Regular Legislative Session will continue through March 14.