Senate, House pass budget, leave Charleston for now

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Senate, House pass budget, leave Charleston for now
By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Legislature went home Thursday night after passing a budget bill that many are predicting will be vetoed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The bill fills a projected $270 million revenue hole mostly with $122 million in spending cuts and $182 million from the state’s Rainy Day fund. Lawmakers rejected the governor’s tax increase proposals that would have generated new revenue.

Sen. Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said passing the budget would relieve the fears of some state residents about a state government shutdown.

“It ends the threat, the angst, the torture, that the people of West Virginia are feeling now about whether or not we’re going to have Armageddon at the end of this month,” Trump said.

The budget, which passed the Senate 18-16 and the House 60-37, fully funds public education, higher education, including the Promise Scholarship, corrections and other important programs, Trump said.

But Sen. Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha) said the Republican majority backed a budget that is completely opposite of the balanced 90-90-90 approach they were preaching before the special session began.

“This is a 91-9-0 plan. I don’t think I heard them say that one time,” Palumbo said. “This budget to me just screams cowardly.”

Several members of the House and Senate protested using $245 million of the $270 million in one-time monies.

“This budget is a lie because we say it’s a balanced budget but it’s not a balanced budget,” Del. Tim Manchin (D-Marion) said.

After Thursday night’s votes, the Legislature adjourned the special session until June 12 unless they are called back sooner. Lawmakers are already scheduled to be in Charleston June 12-13 for interim committee meetings.

Earlier Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline,” House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) admitted he does not like taking that much from the Rainy Day fund but sees that as the best option for lawmakers right now.

“We said from Day One, we need to find the area that we can get the majority of the Legislature to accept and that is where we are,” Armstead said.

Armstead and others legislative leaders, though, were not ruling out future new revenue measures along with additional cuts that could be implemented later in the fiscal year.

In addition to tobacco tax hikes with 45 cents per pack more for cigarettes, Tomblin’s revenue proposals also included a possible sales tax increase and the lifting of the existing telecommunications tax exemption. None have found enough support within the Legislature to pass.

Of the current proposal to instead take about a fourth of what is currently banked in the Rainy Day fund to balance the budget, “Can we do that every year? No. Are we wanting to do that every year? No, obviously we’re not,” Armstead said.

“But to get us through this transition based on the downturn that we’ve seen in our energy sector and to continue to be able to work some of these cuts and to make sure that we do them in the most responsible way, I think this is the right way to go.”

Armstead rejected claims Tomblin would veto the proposed budget outright.

Following what Armstead called “productive” meetings with Tomblin in recent days, “I don’t think he has decided he’s going to veto this at all,” Armstead said. “Certainly, that’s his decision.”

Tomblin administration Communications Director Chris Stadelman issued the following statement to MetroNews Thursday night:

“The governor has made clear to legislators and the public since January that we must have a structurally sound budget that does not rely on an excess of one-time monies and the Rainy Day Fund. He has not wavered from that position.”

In deciding to leave Thursday night, the Legislature opted not to vote on the governor’s bills for one-time funding for the Boone County school system or his state worker furlough bill.