Senate Finance chair says bigger Rainy Day dip could keep state government running in short-term

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Senate Finance chair says bigger Rainy Day dip could keep state government running in short-term
By Shauna Johnson, WV MetroNews

The budget deadline is closer than some West Virginia lawmakers may think, according to Senate Finance Committee Chair Mike Hall (R-Putnam, 04).

Friday marks five weeks until the beginning of West Virginia’s 2017 fiscal year and, nine days into a Special Session, there were no indications state lawmakers were nearing a budget agreement.

“This budget really needs to be done by next week or, at the latest, June 3 or 4,” Hall said to allow time for agency prep work ahead of the start of the new fiscal year.

“July 1, it’s the real drop-dead date, but June 6 or 7 is a serious date in terms of getting it done.”

On Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Hall said Senate leaders were “carefully reconsidering” the Senate’s proposed budget plan following rejection from the House of Delegates of a tobacco tax bill that had the potential to generate more than $75 million for next’s year budget.

The House voted down the bill 44-55 on Tuesday, blowing a hole in proposed separate budgets being crafted in both the Senate and House.

The version of the budget that advanced to the Senate floor earlier this week included a combination of account sweeps and state agency reductions, withdrawals from the Rainy Day Funds totaling roughly $135 million and tobacco tax hike revenues to address the projected $270 million shortfall.

As of Thursday morning, Hall was estimating the Senate’s withdrawals from the Rainy Day Funds in an updated proposed budget could grow to a range of between $150 million to $200 million dollars.

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin was not likely to support those amounts, but Hall saw it as a contingency plan to keep state government running in the short-term until other steps could be taken after the start of the fiscal year on July 1, possibly following the November general election.

“By the middle of next week, hopefully, we’ll have a budget passed. It may not be one the governor would like,” Hall said.

“Whipping and working, we need a budget in the governor’s hands that he can, at least, sign and hold his nose. We understand he could veto sections of it or whatever, but have spending authority to go forward. We cannot let the government shut down.”

The Special Session, which has no end date, began on May 16 and was expected to continue until after Memorial Day.