CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin says he’s giving state lawmakers several options when it comes to possible ways to fill a projected $270 million shortfall in West Virginia’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
A Special Session for budget work was opening at 12 p.m. Monday with no consensus among the Mountain State’s leaders on how to balance the 2017 budget, as required by law.
“I thought with time getting as close to the end of the fiscal year as it was, it was time to bring the Legislature back in session. Let’s sit down and get this budget hammered out,” Tomblin said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
The Special Session came more than two months after the close of the 2016 Regular Legislative Session and less than seven weeks before the beginning of the new fiscal year.
The agenda for the Special Session included Tomblin’s second proposed budget bill for 2017 along with the following proposals which Tomblin said could be implemented individually or in combination with other revenue measures:
– a 45 cent addition to the current 55 cent state tax on a pack of cigarettes, taking it to $1 per pack, along with corresponding tax increases on other tobacco products plus electronic cigarettes
– an increase of up to one percent for the state sales tax, taking it to seven percent, more in areas that already have local sales tax additions in place
– elimination of the existing exemption from sales taxes on telecommunications services for landline and cell phone usage
The exemption does not exist in 45 other states, Tomblin noted.
Instead of those proposed tax increases, Republican leaders in the House and Senate have advocated for additional budget cuts.
Next year’s budget has already been cut by $90 million, Tomblin said.
“The legislative leaders keep on saying there’s a bloat in the budget, but they have never come with specific cuts that they want to make,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about making cuts, but when it gets down to it, it’s a little bit tougher.”
The Special Session agenda included a proposal to fill a $64 million revenue hole in the current budget for the fiscal year that closes on June 30 by sweeping money from various state accounts and pulling money from the Rainy Day Fund.
A bigger draw from Rainy Day for next fiscal year, Tomblin said, could hurt West Virginia’s bond rating.
“I’ve tried to be fiscally responsible in my tenure here but, at the same time, if we do not look at the structural fix for our budget now, it’s going to be even bigger next year,” Tomblin predicted.
There is no scheduled end date for the Special Session which costs an estimated $35,000 a day.
“I would certainly hope that we could get things wrapped up within a week. There’s so many things depending on this,” Tomblin said.