CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers passed the legislature’s version of a new state budget Friday with caution from some members about dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to balance the state’s books.
The budget, as it passed Friday, would take $147.5 million from the savings account that currently has a balance of more than $900 million. The $147.5 million was expected to be reduced by approximately $27 million in some financial bills to be considered in Friday’s special session.
Senator Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the legislature was taking the easy way out.
“We are elected to make the difficult choices and certainly it’s easy for us to go to a savings account and draw money out of it and pay for pay raises and other things that allow us to balance this budget today,” Carmichael said.
Legislative leaders confirmed revenue growth is approximately 1.5 percent while state spending is growing about 7 percent a year. Gov. Tomblin has required a 7.5 percent budget cut for many state agencies during the past two years but there is 65 percent of the budget that is exempt from the cuts.
Increases in spending in the new state budget include $47 million for teacher; school service personnel, state worker and State Police Crime Lab pay raises.
“We are building in fixed spending, baseline budget spending, in a budget in which we take money from a savings account, one time money,” Sen. Carmichael said.
The Senate passed the bill 25-9 with all but one Republican, Donna Boling, R-Pleasants, voted against it.
The House then passed the budget bill 77-18 following similar discussion.
Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he’s thankful previous legislatures set up the Rainy Day Fund and also thankful more recent legislatures have sufficiently funded it.
“Thank goodness, thank goodness, that this body was financially responsible enough to have that fund to dip into,” Caputo said.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the overall state budget has gone from $6 billion to $12 billion since the early 1990s.
“We are starting to go into our savings account to live and anytime a family does that that’s a serious concern,” Armstead said. “We shouldn’t let this moment pass without realizing that’s where we are financially.”
But Caputo called the decision to go into the Rainy Day Fund “a bump in the road.”
“I thank goodness that we had a savings account that we could dip into,” he said.
Gov. Tomblin does have line-item veto power and indicated Friday on MetroNews Talkline he may use that power to cut spending in other areas to reduce the amount being taken from the Rainy Day account.