Budget impasse continues among state’s leading lawmakers
By Matt Maccaro , WV MetroNews
Leading lawmakers are trying to find a way to move forward with a budget, but so far there’s been little movement in the process.
House Speaker Tim Armstead said a budget was in place, but an announcement by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin of a $92 million dollar hole in projected revenue threw a wrench in their plans.
“We had basically reached an agreement with the Senate on a budget during the extended session, and we were ready to pass it,” he said. “That’s when we got this new revenue estimate of $92 million (short) that we had no anticipated.”
House Minority Leader Tim Miley blamed GOP leadership for wanting to take money from the state’s Rainy Day fund, and being vehemently opposed to any tax increases.
“Too many members of the Republican leadership have signed that no new tax pledge, including the speaker. Now he fails to mention that but there are at least six members who signed that pledge,” Miley said. “So now they’ve backed themselves in a corner, and we’re left with having to find what might be as much as $270 million in cuts.”
The PEIA is facing a $120 million budget shortfall, something that Armstead said the House was willing to call themselves into session to address.
“To ensure that the cuts in PEIA do not take place, we’re prepared, at least on the House side, and I think the Senate would be as well, to call ourselves in and deal with that,” Armstead said.
Miley said that was one reason that some Democrats had supported a one-dollar raise on the tax for a pack of cigarettes, despite no Democrats on the House Finance Committee voting for the governor’s original proposal of a 45 cent raise.
“We supported the dollar cigarette tax for a number of reasons. To say we weren’t supportive of a plan is just disingenuous,” he said. “We weren’t supportive of the 45 cents because it didn’t accomplish all that we think the tax need to accomplish. That is more than just raising revenue, but smoking cessation, which has a long-term positive effect for the state.”
Miley also rejected Armstead’s argument that the $92 million revenue announcement meant the budget was back to square one.
“Not necessarily. That’s what they want to have you believe. We could have passed a budget and even if we had provided the new revenue estimates today, we could have come back into special session and passed supplemental bills.”
Armstead wanted to see the political blame game cease.
“Some are trying to play politics with this, trying to say ‘oh, you didn’t get the budget in the regular session so now we have to go in and have a meeting about PEIA’,” he said. “Let’s be honest, everything in the budget is contingent on the passage of a budget.”
The PEIA board is having a emergency session Wednesday, expected to restore more than $120 million in cuts the agency originally presented to insured state workers and retirees last year.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to call lawmakers back to Charleston sometime this spring.