Kiss critical of lawmakers’ budget efforts

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Kiss critical of lawmakers’ budget efforts
By Chris Lawrence | WV MetroNews

Republicans say one thing and do another according to state Tax and Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss.  Kiss, appearing on MetroNews Talkline Thursday, lashed out at the budget bills proposed by the GOP in the House and Senate.

“They are spending more money and they are spending it with one-time money,” Kiss said. “If the answer to this is cut, then let them do it.  They have the budget. They have the Constitutional right, they do not have to pass a budget bigger than the governor, but if they truly believe they should be cutting the budget then do it.  But I’m telling you they’re not doing it.  Neither of their budgets do that.”

The House of Delegates has flatly opposed any increase in fees or taxes during the legislative session which ends Saturday.   Their budget is balanced with money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.  The Senate budget contained no money from the Rainy Day fund, but did include an increase in the tobacco tax.

“What I see is a blueprint for living beyond our means,” said Kiss. “That’s what their budget does and that’s what it does for a number of years into the future and the citizens of the state cannot afford to do that.”

During recent days, Republican leaders were critical of the state’s revenue projections, which have continued to miss the mark and in some cases miss it badly.  But Kiss defended the record over the last 18 years saying the state’s revenue projections in 11 of those years were within three percent of what was actually collected.  He said it’s a track record comparable to any other state in the country.  He added it would be absurd to think the governor would deliberately inflate the budget only to have to cut it after lawmakers left town.

“No one anticipated or saw the complete evaporation (of coal severance),” said Kiss. “We have been tracking and seeing what’s occurring in the energy fields, but the evaporation which has  occurred and the suddenness it occurred starting in October was unforeseen.”

The Republican budgets proposed in the House and Senate do nothing to fundamentally change the structure of government according to Kiss, even though that is the public position of most Republicans. He said the Tomblin Administration is reluctant to get on board with those plans which simply push the matter to next fiscal year, without a long term plan to make the changes which will reduce spending in the future.

“This is where we are and the people elected by the citizens of the state expect us to fix it,” said Kiss. “They are not fixing the structural hole, neither of their budgets do and when they talk about we’ve got to tighten our belt and we’ve got to cut, neither of their budgets do that.  Should we believe what they say or believe what they do?”

Kiss, who formerly served as the House Finance Chairman and the House Speaker acknowledged eliminating programs and reducing funding was always hard to swallow.  He also acknowledged making those hard decisions was part of the job and couldn’t be put off every time it comes up.

He further indicated the Tomblin Administration has tried to do some of the heavy lifting to reduce spending for the past two years but the legislature restored the funding each time.  He cited attempts in 2013 to reduce certain programs in DHHR which were blocked.  The Administration tired to cut the state school aid formula last year which went nowhere. This year’s plan from the administration, according to Kiss, proposed to restructure by creating $150 Million in new revenues and $95 Million in cuts.

“How do you get your arms around this?” said Kiss. “They say they want to cut, they say they want to find structural solutions, but when the governor tries to do it, they stop him.”