CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “You can’t go in and dig the hole deeper,” but House Minority Leader Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) said that is what many state lawmakers tried to do with the budget for the upcoming 2014-2015 fiscal year.
“Really, we were already in a budget hole when we started and, yet, I think the leadership took this as an opportunity to (say), ‘Let’s expand programs, let’s put more money in all these different accounts,'” said Armstead on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin did make cuts to limit additional spending in the new budget year by using his line-item veto power 42 times on the budget plan the Legislature sent him to cut $67 million total from it.
Tomblin said it was the “right thing to do” in a tight budget year. “By doing what we’re doing, we’ll be able to keep ourselves on good financial standing,” he said Friday.
In general, Tomblin largely vetoed earlier cuts that had been restored within the budget, along with some new programs, to reduce the amount that will be taken from the Rainy Day Fund to balance the budget to $100 million.
Reductions were made to education programs and senior services among others.
Tomblin said the following in his veto message: “Some of these reductions curb grants and services and, while they are difficult, they are necessary to responsibly manage future year budgets, without raising taxes.” He said additional spending cuts or tax increases may be needed in the years ahead.
As of now, the amount within the Rainy Day Fund, a reserve account for emergencies, equals 22 percent of the general revenue fund. Anything below 15 percent will affect West Virginia’s bond rating.
“Had I not made the vetoes and the cuts that we made, we would have dropped below the 15 percent next year and that would have been a clear signal that our bonds would have been downgraded,” said Tomblin.
The budget from lawmakers would have taken $120 million out of the Rainy Day Fund.
“Rather than try to look at ways to cut back and ensure that we didn’t have to do that, they actually expanded how much we had to take out of the Rainy Day Fund,” said Armstead.
“I agree with the Governor’s approach of not taking as much out of the Rainy Day Fund and trying to cut back on this budget. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the cuts, specifically, that he made.”
Armstead, for example, questioned the ongoing subsidies, totaling $87 million, for the gambling industry.
The new budget year in West Virginia begins on July 1.