Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SPECIAL BUDGET SESSION ; `Cowardly' Spending Bill OK'd; Democrats Expect Near-Certain Veto from Tomblin over Rainy Day Raid

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

SPECIAL BUDGET SESSION ; `Cowardly' Spending Bill OK'd; Democrats Expect Near-Certain Veto from Tomblin over Rainy Day Raid

Article excerpt

INSIDE: Boone school workers pay might be delayed 3A Wood stove standards excluded from regulations 1C

Unable to pass tax increases or make major cuts in government spending, the West Virginia Legislature amended and passed a budget bill Thursday evening that uses $245 million in Rainy Day reserve funds and one-time money to close a $270 million gap in the 2016-17 state budget. The bill (HB 101) passed the Senate on a party-line 18-16 vote. Later Thursday, the House of Delegates concurred and passed the bill 60-37, sending it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Democrats warned that the bill faces a near-certain veto by Tomblin, who has said he will not allow the Legislature to take more than a "few million dollars out of the Rainy Day funds to balance the budget.

"While it may be the easy way to get out of town, it does not solve the structural problems in West Virginia's budget, said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, who called budget plan "fiscally irresponsible.

However, Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he's hopeful Tomblin will treat the bill as the equivalent of a continuing resolution, to keep state government operating after July 1. West Virginia law does not provide for actual continuing budget resolutions, which other states have used to keep government operating during extended budget impasses.

"The public has asked us to pass a budget, Hall said. "I'm doing it with the only tools I have.

Hall stressed that he had pushed for two of the revenue measures proposed by Tomblin to balance the budget, but found little support in the Legislature for either option.

That included a tobacco tax hike that narrowly passed the Senate but was rejected 55-44 in the House, and a temporary increase in the consumer sales tax that was rejected Tuesday in Senate Finance Committee on a bipartisan 10-6 vote.

"I basically tried to get revenue, or we wouldn't have this budget before you, he said.

Hall agreed with Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, who warned that use of one-time funds to balance the 2016-17 budget will create a larger, $380 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2018.

"It does not bode well going forward, I agree with you, Hall said.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, noted that, when the special session began on May 16, Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R- Jackson, advocated balancing the budget by one-third with Rainy Day funds, one-third with budget cuts and one-third with tax increases.

"This is a 91-9-0 plan, Palumbo said, alluding to 91 percent of Rainy Day and one-time funds, 9 percent cuts and no new revenue.

"This budget, to me, just screams cowardly, he said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, conceded that all options facing the Legislature to balance the budget were unpalatable.

However, he said, "No combination of them is as horrible as the specter of not passing a budget and having this government shut down. …

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