CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s less than three weeks until the end of the 60-day regular legislative session but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin didn’t appear panicked Tuesday when asked about his struggling budget proposals.
The governor wants lawmakers to move $39 million in state Lottery subsidies and $13 million from the state Road Fund to the general revenue fund to help balance the budget in a tight budget year but neither proposal currently has the momentum necessary to pass.
The Lottery money has gone to cities, counties and racing groups for years. They have cried foul about the proposed 15 percent cuts. Meanwhile, the Senate Transportation Committee defeated the Road Fund transfer in its meeting Tuesday.
Gov. Tomblin spent most of his political life in the state legislature so he knows, maybe better than anyone in West Virginia, how the process works. He said he’s not pushing the panic button.
“I’ve been around this process for a long time. As a former (Senate) finance chair during tough times back in the 80s we had to make some tough decisions and this year is no exception to that,” Tomblin said Tuesday.
The governor has already proposed taking $84 million out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help the struggling budget. He waved a caution flag Tuesday when asked if he would favor going deeper into the reserve fund because his other money moving plans are struggling.
“When you dig too deep into it and you get below that area where the Wall Street people recommend you be, you run the risk of having a bond downgrade,” he said.
Tomblin said raising taxes has been mentioned. An increase in the tobacco tax is one he’s heard rumblings about. But he said he’s not sure in an election year if even that type of tax would get enough votes.
With the regular session set to end March 8 followed by a week-long budget session, the governor said there’s time for a compromise to be worked out.
“As in any other budget it takes some give and take. There’s a difference in opinion but we’ll work out those differences,” Tomblin said.