CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “How do we get there together?”
Nick Casey, chief of staff for Governor Jim Justice, said that is the question that needs to be answered as work continues on the 2018 Fiscal Year budget with its projected $500 million shortfall.
“We’ve got a horrible budget crisis,” Casey said. “This isn’t, like, who’s going to win or lose? We’ve got to beat the budget together.”
On Tuesday, Republican leaders in the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates reported being “almost there” on a budget plan to offer as an alternative to Governor Justice’s proposals.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) was promising a “thoughtful plan” that’s “good for the state of West Virginia” as early as next week — what would be an “historically early” point for a budget proposal in the session, he said.
Carmichael said that is distinct from Governor Justice’s approach: “We’re not just going to keep throwing plans on the wall saying, ‘You like this one? You like this one? You like this one?'”
Both he and House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40) were guests on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” a day after Justice walked reporters through another of his budget proposals at the state Capitol.
Justice continues to propose about $26 million in spending cuts, but indicated Monday he’s open to spending cuts of about $50 million — if the Legislature identifies such reductions.
Carmichael said the Republican plan could include cuts totaling north of $200 million.
Three weeks after his State of the State Address, Justice is floating a smaller consumer sales tax increase of .25 percent and lower commercial activities tax, also known as a B&O tax, of .075 percent.
Other new tax increases that are part of Justice’s latest proposal include a one cent tax per ounce on “sugary drinks” to generate an estimated $85 million and a 50 cent per pack addition to the cigarette tax to bring in $47.8 million.
The current per pack cigarette tax is $1.20 after a 65 cent increase last year.
As for the possibility of such tax increases, “We’re not going to start going down that road until we see true cuts, until we see a true restructuring of government and that’s what we’ve said all along,” Armstead said.
“We’re not taking anything off the table,” Carmichael noted. “Our first impulse, though, is to right-size this government.”
Carmichael and Armstead met recently along with with the finance chairmen in their respective chambers, Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall (R-Putnam, 04) and House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson (R-Kanawha, 35).
“We have a structure in place that will deliver a budget to the people of West Virginia and it may not be exactly what the governor wants or proposes or whichever iteration that he’s proposing,” Carmichael said.
Casey said Justice is simply offering other possible routes.
On MetroNews “Talkline,” he used the following metaphor about traveling to Wheeling from Charleston to describe the possible paths forward on budget work:
“You can get to Wheeling going up I-79 and across. You can go I-77 and across. You can take Rt. 2. You can take Rt. 7. There’s four or five ways to get from Charleston to Wheeling,” Casey said.
“None of them are really bad. Some of them are little easier on people than others but, buddy, we’ve got to get to Wheeling.”
The halfway point for the 2017 Regular Legislative Session comes next week. The session ends on Saturday, Apr. 8.