The Republicans, Democrats and Governor Justice have moved closer to a possible compromise on the budget.
A potential breakthrough began Saturday when the House Finance Committee approved and sent to the floor legislation that eliminates a number of exemptions to the state sales tax and also brings back the sales tax on groceries at a rate of three percent.
Those steps, along with several other measures, would raise over $215 million in new revenue. That’s only about half of the new revenue that Governor Justice wants to raise, but it’s a significant move by the GOP considering it’s commitment to cuts.
However, the vote on first reading indicated support by Republicans for their own plan was tenuous. With Republicans not universally united behind their own budget proposal, that opened the door for some flexibility with the Governor.
During a radio town hall on Talkline Monday, the Governor recognized the significance of the development. “We’re moving,” Justice said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
The optimism carried through the day.
Governor Justice caucused with Republican leaders. That was followed by a closed-door session between the Governor and Democratic leaders. As legislative activity continued into the night, there was a good chance of more meetings between Justice and Republicans.
Leaders of both parties said that Monday was THE most significant day of budget discussions since the session began. Leaders emerged from the meetings encouraged by the discussions, but not ready to sign off on any deal.
Now that Republicans have opened a path to increased taxes, the question is what that tax or taxes will be? The Governor doesn’t like the House Republican proposal for bringing back the food tax, so that’s a sticking point.
And that’s just one issue. There are numerous pieces that still have to come together over the next two weeks, but there was real movement yesterday.
During Talkline, Justice sounded optimistic about the outcome. “I don’t think anybody’s going to get dug in,” he said. “I think we’re going to all sit and good ideas are going to come out and we’re going to go with those good ideas and we’ll get this thing done.”
After yesterday, there is at least some reason for optimism.