You can tell Republican leaders at the State Capitol are getting weary of answering the question, “Where is YOUR budget proposal?” Governor Jim Justice raised that question again Monday as he unveiled his second budget alternative, saying he hasn’t seen anything from the GOP yet.

The Republicans take a deep breath and answer, yet again, that the budget is never finished until the end of the session, that they are holding meetings with agency heads to hear their budget proposals.

“Hey, we’re working on it!”

In fact, they are working on a budget plan and, they say, they are making progress. House Speaker Tim Armstead, House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall have met and developed a framework for their spending plan.

We don’t know the details yet, but based on comments by the GOP leaders we can surmise a few things:

—The cuts will be much deeper than the Governor’s modest $27 million reductions. Senate President Mitch Carmichael said on Talkline Tuesday that the cuts could be as high as $250 million.

—Tax increases are unlikely. Republican leaders say they have not ruled out increasing taxes, but cuts have to come first.

—Tax reform may be part of their budget. Senate Republicans are determined to repeal the state income tax, corporate net income tax and consumer sales tax, and replace them with a consumption tax. The reform plan will include removing many of the current exemptions to the sales tax.

—Justice’s two-percent classroom teacher pay raise won’t be part of the GOP plan. Carmichael said teachers and state workers all need a raise, but the state cannot afford it right now.

GOP leaders are correct that typically the session is nearing an end before the budget is cobbled together, but this is not a typical year. The state faces a budget crisis and crafting a consensus spending plan is THE most important issue this session.

The pressure is on to get this done early to avoid an extended session, a prolonged public fight and the worst case scenario of a government shutdown.

Currently, Governor Justice is controlling the news cycle because he has floated two budget alternatives. They are the only two proposals available, so there’s nothing else to compare it to.

Next Thursday is the halfway point of the regular session. It’s reasonable to expect that if the GOP is coming together on a plan that we will see it by then, leaving plenty of time for the Governor and lawmakers to build consensus on a budget.

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