House Speaker says taxpayers cannot bear full budget burden

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House Speaker says taxpayers cannot bear full budget burden
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

You’ll hear no apology from House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) as state lawmakers head into a Special Session next week for budget work with the projected shortfall in the 2017 spending plan estimated at $270 million.

“Someone needs to be standing up for the taxpayers,” Armstead said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline” of the continued resistance from a number of House members to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s tax increase proposals.

In the call for the Special Session that begins Monday, Tomblin has proposed three separate tax increases to fill the budget hole — tobacco, telecommunications and sales taxes.

Armstead is opposed to a plan that, in his view, would put the entire budget burden on taxpayers.

“I’m not going to apologize for one minute for the House standing up against $270 million in tax increases without making cuts to state government,” Armstead said. “I’m not going to apologize for that because I think that’s the stand that needs to be taken.”

Tomblin’s proposals are similar to those members of the Legislature rejected outright or failed to take up at all earlier this year.

They include tobacco tax increases, a hike of no more than one percent for the consumer sales tax and the lifting of an existing exemption on a six percent telecommunications tax.

Also among his proposals are sweeps of unused money from various accounts and withdrawals from the Rainy Day Fund.

A revenue boost is needed, Tomblin has argued, after three years of state budget cuts.

Instead, Armstead said he’s looking for an “appropriate balance” of “responsible” spending cuts to streamline government, plus revenue sweeps and Rainy Day funding to balance the budget.

The Rainy Day Fund is also called the Revenue Reserve Shortfall Fund, Armstead pointed out on “Talkline.”

“No one wants to go in and raid that and just be irresponsible with it. We’re not suggesting that. We never have,” he said. “But to say that we’re going to leave that alone and then go out and just raise all these taxes is, to me, as irresponsible as entirely raiding it.”

A list of possible areas in state government to cut, totaling about $100 million, has been circulating among negotiators since before the 2016 Regular Legislative Session closed in March, according to Armstead.

“I really haven’t felt like that there’s been a real effort, truthfully, by the Governor’s Office to come to the table and really work with us on this,” Armstead said.

“We are very willing to discuss all the different options, but we’re not going to be passing $270 million in tax increases and putting all this burden on the taxpayer.”

The new budget year begins on July 1.

The Special Session agenda also included a bill dealing with $63 million in funding for the current fiscal year: nearly $35 million from the sweeping of various accounts and $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

A separate proposed bill would authorize Tomblin “to furlough state employees in the event of certain fiscal emergencies.”