Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

BUDGET IMPASSE ; Rainy Day Raid; Finance Panels' Budgets Rely on Emergency Cash

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

BUDGET IMPASSE ; Rainy Day Raid; Finance Panels' Budgets Rely on Emergency Cash

Article excerpt

Countdown to shutdown W.Va. budget impasse: Day 73 Shutdown of state government: 37 days Special session: Day 7 Special session cost: $245,000* *Estimated

The state Senate and House Finance committees on Monday unveiled budget bills that significantly raid West Virginia's Rainy Day emergency reserve funds to close a $270 million shortfall in the $4.1 billion general revenue budget. The Senate plan would take $135 million from the Rainy Day A account - nearly one-third of the $422 million in the fund.

"I'm not so sure the ink will be dry before the governor vetoes it, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said of the Senate budget bill (SB 1001). The bill advanced from the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, with all nine Republicans in favor and all eight Democrats against.

Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss stopped short of saying Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin would veto a budget bill that relies so heavily on Rainy Day funds, but said, "There is a number beyond which I think the governor will say, I'm not going to participate in that level of Rainy Day spending.'

The bill also imposes an additional $36.7 million in spending cuts, with 2 percent across-the-board cuts for many agencies, as well as 10 percent cuts for the offices of the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, and agriculture commissioner.

That's on top of $86 million in cuts in the budget bill proposed by the Tomblin administration, bringing total cuts in the budget to more than $122 million.

However, the plan exempts public education, higher education, Department of Health and Human Resources, the State Police, Corrections and Senior Services from further cuts, and fully funds state scholarship programs, including Promise, as well as PEIA employer premium increases.

"It's not a budget I'm happy with, but July 1 is down the road, Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said of the plan, referring to the date state government will shut down if a 2016-17 budget has not been passed.

House Finance Committee members were slated to take up a similar budget plan Monday evening, as the special session on the budget impasse concluded its sixth day.

Meanwhile, a critical vote on the fate of the 2016-17 budget comes today, when the House of Delegates will take a passage vote on legislation to raise tobacco taxes by as much as $78 million a year (SB 1005).

A similar measure to raise cigarette taxes by 45 cents a pack was crushed in House Finance Committee during the regular session as anti-tax Republicans joined Democrats who favored a $1-a-pack increase in defeating the measure by a 22-3 margin.

On Monday, the House soundly rejected, on a 67-28 vote, an amendment by Delegate Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer, to exempt smokeless tobacco products, pipe tobacco, cigars and e-cigarettes from the tax increase.

However, the House adopted, on a 52-43 vote, an amendment by Delegate Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, to remove a proposed new tax on e-cigarette liquids that would raise about $1.8 million a year.

Proponents argued against the tax, contending that e-cigarettes provide an option for smokers to wean themselves off cigarettes and that it would hurt small-business entrepreneurs who operate "vape shops around the state.

The amendment divided House Republicans, who voted 31-30 against the measure, but had a strong 22-12 margin of support among Democrats. Five delegates were absent Monday.

While the amendment complicates matters - the Senate will either have to concur on exempting e-cigarettes or send the bill to a House- Senate conference committee - House leaders were optimistic it could help garner support for what is believed to be a razor-close passage vote in the House today

"Maybe a couple of members who are on the fence will be in support of moving forward with this, House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said Monday of the amendment. …

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