CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The budget problems West Virginia is facing now and in the years ahead are not a surprise to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso (D-Marion, 13).
“We knew this was coming. We knew several years ago that we were in this situation and that’s why we were very cautious about not spending additional money to expand Medicaid and things of that sort when we had additional monies,” said Prezioso.
At this point, he said the budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015 in West Virginia is projected to be between $265 million and $350 million.
Depending on how revenues come in to the state, the number could go higher.
On Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Prezioso said declines in severance tax and personal income tax collections, increases to Medicaid costs and ballooning tax credits, like those given for flex fuel vehicle purchases which have since been addressed, are all contributing to the expected shortfalls.
Prezioso said it’s a budget hole that cannot be ignored. He said lawmakers may have to consider raising taxes or dipping into the Rainy Day Fund.
“We’re mandated by the Constitution to balance the budget. We have to do that, ” he said. “That’s my total mission, in my job here as the finance chair, is to make sure this budget is balanced and that we can pay our bills and try to maintain that we don’t lay off anybody or we don’t furlough anybody.”
State lawmakers will start working on the 2015 budget in the New Year. Already, many state agencies have again been asked to submit budgets that are 7.5 percent below current spending levels. Public education, corrections and Medicaid and others have been exempted from those cuts.
Prezioso said 64 percent of the state’s budget is untouchable. “Most of our budget is in code,” he said. Areas that can be cut include corrections, State Police, behavioral health and higher education.
“I’m a pretty optimistic person, but the numbers just don’t lie to you,” said Prezioso.
The 2014 Regular Legislative Session begins in January.