House and Senate budgets part ways on teacher pay raises

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By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The budgets in the state Senate and House of Delegates are on a collision course, with the biggest difference – predictably – a pay raise for teachers.

The House Finance Committee voted to approve its budget on Thursday afternoon, the 51st day of the legislative session. It includes the pay raise for teachers and school service personnel. The full House then took up the bill on first reading during a Thursday evening floor session, so the amendment stage will be Friday.

The Senate Finance Committee also quickly approved a budget, but without the pay raise for teachers and school service personnel.

The pay raise bill has been sitting in the Senate this week, with no hint yet of consideration in committee. The bill has been assigned both to Senate Education and Senate Finance.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said he has spoken with Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, also R-Berkeley, to try to resolve differences.

“I do hope the Senate will run the governor’s pay raise bill, but we’ll cross that bridge,” Householder said Thursday morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Gov. Jim Justice has also pushed for the pay raise, which he and other Republican legislative leaders promised in October.

“I am very pleased that the House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly to pass my clean pay-raise bill yesterday,” the governor stated this past Saturday. “I am now calling on the Senate to do the same and pass the bill as soon as possible.”

Some senators in the Republican majority have stated the position that they already passed a teacher pay raise bill, bundled in the omnibus education bill that was killed earlier in the session by the House.

Pay raise aside, the Senate Finance Committee quickly, with little discussion and no debate, passed its budget bill, SB 150, Thursday afternoon.

The most notable exclusion from the governor’s introduced bill is the exclusion of the $80 million to the Department of Education for teacher and support staff pay raises.

When asked about that, Blair told the members that will be worked out in conference committee with the House. But the exact parliamentary issues regarding the reconciliation are a bit cloudy and the conversation didn’t make it a lot clearer.

A conversation between Blair and Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, suggested that it may not be possible to reconcile the House’s raise, passed in separate legislation that is sitting idle in Senate Education. Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, a former Finance chair, said reconciliation may be possible because the Senate sent a raise to the House in SB 451, the now-dead omnibus.

Blair and others mentioned that both houses have passed bills affecting revenue that haven’t been factored into the other side’s bill – such as the House reduction on the steam coal severance tax and elimination of the Social Security income tax – that will be reconciled in conference.

SB 150’s total appropriations are $13.73 billion. They include $4.66 billion in general revenue, $1.38 billion in the Road Fund, $127.8 million for Lottery and $290.3 million for excess lottery, plus assorted special revenue and federal funds.

The bill makes a total $100 million in cuts from the governor’s budget, including the $80 million raise package. It cuts the three elements of the Jim’s Dream jobs program from $25 million to $15 million. It trims the governor’s $14 million tourism boost to $7 million.

The bill adds $137 million in spending not proposed by the governor. The biggest item on that list is $110 million for the Randy’s Dream road repair bill, SB 522. It also includes $7.7 million for the last-dollar-in community college bill, SB 1, and $11 million being restored to the racetrack purse funds in SB 13.

Six Senate bills factored into the budget reduce general revenue collections by $15.89 million. They include SB 117, local government consolidation, $7.38 million, and SB 333, exempting antique cars from taxation, $1.5 million.

Total Senate new spending and revenue reductions total $153 million. That’s offset by the $100 million cut from the governor’s proposal plus a $53 million supplemental appropriation from Medicaid surpluses.

Each year, one house passes a budget bill and sends it to the other side, where that side amends its bill into it. That sets up conference committee negotiations. This year, the House will send its bill to the Senate.

Blair said legislative leaders hope to finish the budgeting process by the end of the session, but if they don’t, it may require a few days of extended session.

Householder also said he hopes to conclude the budget process at least two days prior to the end of the regular session.

The House’s total proposed budget is $4.6 billion in general revenue.

In addition to the pay raises, the House budget accounts for an estimated $30 million for a severance tax cut for steam coal.

All of that moving and shaking results in a “gap requiring attention” of $49 million.

The House is proposing to take surplus dollars from the current fiscal year and “pre-fund” Medicaid for the coming fiscal year.

That’s going to look like Medicaid is taking a big cut in the coming budget. But the money is being fronted, House budget staff said.

The House also proposes some funding increases for DHHR, including $41 million for child welfare.

Community and technical colleges are in line for a total of $5 million in funding increases, particularly growing Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in the Eastern Panhandle.

And there are proposed increases totaling $10 million for some of the four-year colleges. These reflect a recommendation by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.

West Virginia University and Marshall University were not originally among the colleges receiving more funding, although delegates amended in $1 million increases for each.

“I urge as a matter of fairness we give them a little something,” said Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.

The proposed House budget does cut some things Gov. Jim Justice had proposed. The most notable is Jim’s Dream, which the governor described as an investment in workforce training and a fight against drug addiction.

That initiative is included in the “surplus section,” which means that if the current fiscal year ends with extra money, Jim’s Dream would be the priorities for supplemental funding.

There also might not be enough money left in the House version to fund Senate Bill 1, the community college tuition program, which was described as the Senate’s top priority this year. The House hasn’t finished work on that bill.