With legislative session on home stretch, is budget compromise possible?

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With legislative session on home stretch, is budget compromise possible?
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With just about one-third of the West Virginia legislative session remaining, lawmakers and Gov. Jim Justice are feeling each other out over whether there’s room for compromise on their visions for the state budget.

“This process, you have to put something on the table to start the dialogue and the negotiation process and the compromise,” Justice said Friday afternoon during a conversation with reporters.

That’ morning, Justice had met with legislative leaders, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead.

Justice has presented a couple of options for his budget, but both rely on millions of dollars of revenue enhancements, mostly tax increases. He says increased revenue is crucial to reinvest in the state.

The Republican majority in the Legislature last week presented its own vision for the budget. They say their budget will not exceed the state’s $4.055 billion revenue estimate. To fill the coming fiscal gap, the GOP specified $277.7 million in budget measures but left $150 million undefined.

“How do we turn this state around?” Carmichael asked Friday on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “The governor has one view on it, the Legislature and the people of West Virginia, I hope, have a different view.”

Justice announced a couple of additional changes to his budget proposal on Friday. He said he wants to bring back 15 of the 37 state foresters who were laid off last summer, and he wants the coming year’s budget to reinstate $4.6 million for public broadcasting.

Public broadcasting was among $26 million in proposed cuts in Justice’s original budget presentation.

Justice received criticism for that proposed cut, as well as to cuts to programs such as fairs and festivals. On Friday, he said the amount of criticism he received over relatively few cuts demonstrates how difficult it will be for the Legislature to specify $150 million in spending reductions.

“I put things out there that really didn’t amount to a whole lot of money and everybody shot at me like crazy. And now everybody is coming to the realization that ‘Dag, there’s not these meaningful, wasteful cuts that we can make without really getting into the bone and really hurting us,'” Justice said.

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