CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With four days left in the legislative session, budget bills passed second reading in both houses today.
The bills will be on third reading, passage stage, on Wednesday.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael says he feels good about where matters stand. Gov. Jim Justice sounds anything but happy.
Both appeared this morning on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“I am really frustrated. I guess the right word would be sad,” Justice said today. “Mister T would have said ‘I pity the fool.’ And we’re the fool The people are the fool.”
The governor said the budget proposals up in the Legislature are far from what he finds acceptable. Justice gathered with labor and business leaders Monday to support his budget outline — particularly his commercial activities tax as well as proposed taxes on sugary drinks and an increase on the tobacco tax.
The Senate Finance Committee passed out a budget Monday afternoon that, as GOP legislative leaders have been vowing for weeks, largely sticks to the state’s $4.055 billion revenue estimate. The result is significant cuts to higher education and DHHR.
The Senate budget bill doesn’t cut far into the school system, the largest piece of the state budget, because of a bill that would raise $70 million in property taxes.
“We got this,” Carmichael, R-Jackson, said today. “We delivered what we said we would do. What we delivered was the campaign promise that the governor ran on. What we did in the Senate is we delivered on that promise.”
The potential cuts to DHHR inspired Justice to light a state-of-emergency lantern atop the Capitol just a couple of weeks ago.
Carmichael said the proposed cuts to DHHR are reasonable.
“What we are asking the DHHR to do is absorb a less than 4 percent cut,” Carmichael said.
Higher education would take a 15 percent cut of state funding under the Senate’s plan.
Carmichael said the institutions should be able to absorb that level of cut.
“We provided the flexibility for all these institutions to manage themselves to get more from the dollars they’re allocated.,” he said.
The proposed cuts to higher education have already been the subject of criticism.
West Virginia University sent out a release today saying, “Gee urges WVU supporters to call GOP state senators about budget reduction.”
University President Gordon Gee, during his own “Talkline” appearance, said a state budget that would reduce the institution’s budget by 15 percent is short-sighted.
“I’m absolutely trying to inform the people who love this university. I want to inform them. This is not about pressure. This is about information,” Gee said today.
Gee said WVU and the other higher education institutions in the state already have absorbed cuts in recent years.
“The university has given substantially. This is not as if we have been sitting here and not doing anything,” Gee said. “I would never go to the Legislature unless I’ve given at the store,” Gee said.
Gee appeared Monday evening at a House Finance Committee meeting. The committee passed out a bill that evening that cuts higher education but not quite so steeply. The House bill rolls all higher education institutions together in a line item for a 4.4 percent cut — about $10 million.
“I think these are ongoing discussions,” Gee said today. “The Senate has made a proposal that I think is not in the best interest of the state. We do need to come together as a state. We need to think carefully about our investment in the future.”
Governor Justice reiterated his worry about how the budget talks are going.
“They’re so so out in left field. It’s unbelievable the damage they’re causing or will cause,” Justice said. “At the end of the day it is a sad sad state of affairs what’s going on.”