W.Va. budget deal reached after days of debate

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By Ashton Marra
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The House and Senate have come to an agreement on the state's budget for the next fiscal year. The process was stalled earlier in the week.

Negotiations between legislative leadership and the governor centered on two issues: how much money to pull from the state Attorney General's Consumer Protection Fund and how much money they could use to expand the Aged and Disabled Waiver Program for seniors.

The program provides services for seniors who are eligible for Medicaid, but with some assistance can remain in their homes, a much more inexpensive option.

Senate Finance Chair Roman Prezioso said the budget bill pulls $5 million from the Attorney General's fund and places it back in the general revenue budget. That amount, combined with an additional $1 million they anticipate passing in a supplemental appropriations bill during a special session, will go toward increasing the Title 19 funding.

The compromise, in total, takes $6 million from the Consumer Protection Fund, leaving the Attorney General around $9.8 million, or about three years operating expenses.

"Those funds will also continue to come in," House Finance Chair Brent Boggs said Thursday. "As additional cases settle, the amount will grow so he has a good amount."

There are currently around 2,300 seniors on the waiting list for in-home care assistance. Boggs said the initial $12 million the House had proposed in their budget and supplemental bills could have eliminated that list--not forever--but, for the time being.

After reaching the agreement, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a release:

"Our Office worked closely with the Legislature and the Governor’s Office to structure this deal, which maintains funding for the Consumer Protection Division and ensures our Office’s ability to educate citizens about scams, investigate claims of wrongdoing, and prosecute those who try to take advantage of our friends and neighbors. During difficult economic times, every Office must do its part to put the taxpayers’ first."

Members of the House and Senate received the compromised budget Thursday night and will put it to a vote Friday.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger said after a vote, the legislature will adjourn sine die and the governor will immediately call a special session.

The call for that special session has yet to be announced, but members expect to see two supplemental appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2014. Also on the table is one bill dealing with the local share for county boards of education, another that would regulate the disposal of drill cuttings in landfills, and third that would allow counties to raise the salaries of some county employees on the list.