CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The budget numbers are not adding up for Senate Finance Committee Chair Roman Prezioso (D-Marion, 13) who sees much more demand for state dollars than what West Virginia has now and in the coming year.
“You either have to raise some revenues or you’re going to have to go deeper in this budget to make some cuts,” said Prezioso. “And, right now, I’ve got a 15 minute revolving door in this office of people coming in and saying, ‘Please restore our budget. Please restore our budget.'”
When the next fiscal year begins in July, FY 2015, it will be the second consecutive year of 7.5 percent budget reductions for some state agencies; but, Prezioso said, even those cuts may not be enough.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s financial team has used a combination of those cuts and one-time dollars, including an $84 million dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, to fill a projected $265 million dollar budget hole and balance the $4.7 billion dollar budget for 2015. Up to now, the Rainy Day Fund, which contains $920 million total, has not been used to pay for regular ongoing state expenses.
Tomblin has also proposed sweeping a number of state accounts for more than $60 million About $39 million of that total would come from lottery revenues — cutting into money that usually goes to cities, counties, infrastructure and greyhound breeders.
Prezioso said Tomblin’s balanced budget depends on passage of six different proposed bills before the close of the 2014 Regular Legislative Session on March 8 and, as of Monday, he was not optimistic about the chances for all of those proposals. Failure for any part would require additional revenues to be found elsewhere.
“We’re just trying to hold our own right now and get through this year in budget,” Prezioso said, on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” about the budget balancing act.
To sufficiently address the budget needs, he said he would support raising the state sales tax from six percent to seven percent, while adding as much as $1 to the state tax on a pack of cigarettes. West Virginia’s current cigarette tax is 55 cents.
“I think people would understand the dire straits that we’re in, for the next two years, (it) would help us to restore some of those budget cuts and get us through the next two years and, hopefully, the economy is going to turn around on us,” argued Prezioso.
However, he admitted tax increases are an especially tough sell in this election year. “Nobody wants to say the ‘T’ word,” said Prezioso. “People need to put aside our political differences and let’s start doing the right thing and make the tough decisions and get through this thing.”
The end of the 60-day session, which comes in less than three weeks, will be followed by a week long budget session at the State Capitol focused on approval for the FY 2015 budget.