CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso (D-Marion, 13) said lawmakers are now working on Plan B when it comes to balancing the state budget.
“We’re going back into our Rainy Day Funds, we’re going to look at the majority of the traffic money, just to balance this budget and hope for a better day tomorrow,” said Prezioso on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
On Thursday, House Democrats soundly rejected any idea of tax increases to fill a projected $180 million budget hole.
Possible proposals had included adding $1 to the current 55 cent state tax on every pack of cigarettes or temporarily taking the consumer sales tax from six percent to seven percent. Both options were non-starters in the House.
“Our hands are tied at this particular stage,” said Prezioso. “Without any new revenue enhancements, we have no choice but to revert back into our savings accounts to balance this budget.”
House members were working Friday on a counter-proposal to balance the budget in a way that was similar to what Governor Earl Ray Tomblin had originally proposed by trimming $39 million from a number of accounts funded with lottery money.
With the House plan, 15 percent would be cut from most of the those accounts — including the thoroughbred and greyhound breeder funds — but only ten percent of the lottery revenues directed to counties and cities would be reduced.
Even with that sweep, additional state agency budget cuts of as much as 7.5 percent and hiring freezes, though, Prezioso said state officials will still have to dip into the Rainy Day Fund — a $920 million fund that was created for emergencies.
Prezioso said as much as $200 million could be taken from the Rainy Day Fund. West Virginia’s bond rating is based on the ratio of that reserve compared with the size of the state’s budget.
“It’s very tricky at this stage. We want to conserve as much money as we can because we know there will be shortfalls in the 2016 budget,” he said. “How far do you go? Is it raining everyday? But that’s why it’s there and we’ve got to be very cautious that we don’t get to the tipping point.”
To save $5 million, Prezioso said members of the Senate Finance Committee changed the teacher pay raise bill on Friday morning, restoring the two percent across the board raise Governor Earl Ray Tomblin had proposed for teachers and school service workers. Other state employees would see a $500 raise.
Members of the Senate Education Committee had altered the proposal to provide a $1,000 across the board raise for teachers as a way to help new teachers more, but that plan that would have cost more money Prezioso said the state does not have.