CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As the clock continues to tick to the end of the legislative session, Gov. Jim Justice spent part of Monday holding a budget summit with leaders from an array of fields.
During the summit, Justice offered additional options for solving the state’s budget problems merely hours after the Senate Finance Committee put forward its budget proposal for next fiscal year.
The committee’s $4.1 billion budget includes cuts to higher education ($50 million), public education ($76.6 million) and health and human resources ($47.7 million).
Last week, Justice said there was a “mutual understanding” between his office and Republican leaders in the House of Delegates on a solution to address the $500 million shortfall in the 2018 fiscal year budget.
But in the governor’s reception room Monday, Justice said while he “thought we were really close,” the plans being put forward have proven otherwise.
“I think these people are committing political suicide,” he said.
Representatives from education, labor, business and other fields joined the governor that afternoon to support his “preferred plan.” Most leaders were donning stickers stating “Stand with Jim.”
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look around this table and see the horsepower that’s sitting here,” Justice said. “It’s for real, and it’s a group of people who traditionally aren’t together very much.”
Justice proposed in February a $4.5 billion budget with $26 million in cuts and $450 million in new revenue, mainly from taxes.
Justice made some additions to his plan, including $55 million total in cuts; eliminating sales tax exemptions for telecommunications, electronic data processing and health clubs; raising the soda tax by two cents per container; raising the cigarette tax by 20 cents per tax; and new taxes on wealthy residents.
For West Virginian’s making more than $200,000, they will be required to pay $500 more a year; for those making more than $250,000, they will have to pay an additional $750 and for those making more than $300,000, they will have to pay $1,000.
“You ought to be able to pay $1,000 and not even know that it’s gone,” Justice said.
Justice also said West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts supports commercial activities tax Justice proposed, which Justice said could bring $45 million in taxes. Roberts took part in the budget summit.
According to the governor’s office, the plan would bring in $236 million for the state, and would allow the greyhound breeders fund to remain and Justice’s proposed teacher pay raise to be enacted.
The House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 437 on April 1 to discontinue the $15 million fund.
Justice said his office and the legislature are “$200 million apart,” and he cannot get his budget proposal to be voted on by any chamber.
“I’ve really tried, and I don’t want to sound negative,” Justice said. “What I see us doing now is spiraling us into no man’s land.”
Justice said he felt actions to make West Virginia more attractive have come up short, including reducing the corporate income tax.
“Has it worked? Are things better?” he said.
Justice noted his “Save Our State” plan, saying infrastructure projects around the state will create around 50,000 jobs.
The governor said nothing is going to get done given the current climate and advised lawmakers to “go get their sleeping bags” so a united proposal can be put forward by the end of session Saturday.
The House Finance Committee passed its budget plan Monday evening. The $4.24 billion budget includes $137 million in new tax revenue from broadening the tax base and eliminating tax exemptions for certain industries. The Women’s Commission, the Cardiac project and Tobacco Education group would be among the $4 million in cuts from the Department of Health and Human Resources.
The Department of Education and the Arts would be cut in its entirety, and certain functions would be redirected to other departments.
The plan does not include Justice’s proposed teacher pay raises and infrastructure development plans.