Senate could move on revised budget Saturday

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Senate could move on revised budget Saturday
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates is not on board with what’s billed as a revised bipartisan budget agreement between Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Senate members, according to House Speaker Tim Armstead.

Tomblin announced the agreement Wednesday, along with his veto of the proposed 2017 budget the Legislature approved in a special session last week.

With three weeks left until the start of the new fiscal year—and the state funding expires—Tomblin instead is offering a reworked plan with a 65-cents-per-pack hike for cigarettes. He wants to borrow $70 million from the state’s “rainy day fund,” down from the $182 million in the Legislature’s budget.

During an appearance on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer, 06) cautiously predicted the Senate would pass Tomblin’s proposal, with bipartisan support, and send it to the House of Delegates.

“I think anyone who’s had eighth-grade West Virginia history knows that you don’t have an agreement until you have the House, the Senate and the governor,” Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) said earlier on the “Talkline” program. “(Tomblin) doesn’t have the House.”

If there is not nearly unanimous approval from House Democrats this time around, “I really don’t see a path forward for that 65 cents,” Armstead said.

Only one Democrat supported the 45-cent cigarette tax increase proposal taken up earlier in the special session, joining 43 Republicans. Many of those Republicans, he predicted, would not back a higher tax.

“There’s not very much support for that,” Armstead said. “I will be interested to see how (Tomblin) intends to somehow gain support, even with his own party, for a tax increase that’s greater than the one that’s already been rejected.”

Cole, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, was planning to vote for it.

“I’m going to do the right thing, in my mind, by the citizens of West Virginia and I am going to support the governor’s plan as best I can. Do I like it? Not necessarily, but I think that’s just part of the process,” he said.

The Senate previously approved a $1 per-pack increase to the state tax on cigarettes, but the House has pushed back against tax hikes to fill the projected $270 million shortfall in next year’s state budget

To enact this new budget proposal, Armstead claimed Tomblin needs to bring everyone together and up to now “he has failed to do that.” He claimed the governor did “nothing” to ensure passage of the previous 45-cent hike.

Tomblin said he’d met with the minority leaders of the Senate and House and asked for cooperation on the proposal that falls between what many House Republicans already voted for and the $1 House Democrats had pushed for through the Regular Session and Special Session.

With the end of his time in office in sight, Tomblin said he’s not willing to “completely destroy” the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget and leave the next occupant of the governor’s office in the lurch.

Minus additional revenues, the shortfall for the 2018 fiscal year could again top $200 million, he estimated.

“I don’t want to see that. I have worked very hard over the years to try to get us where we are and to be irresponsible, I think, is the wrong thing to do,” he said.

If there’s no budget, funding for state government runs out on July 1.

“It would be completely irresponsible to get to that point where we would have to shut this government down,” Tomblin said.

Cole agreed, “Shutting down state government cannot happen.”