CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One Republican leader in the West Virginia Senate is confident a budget agreement will be reached before the start of the 2018 Fiscal Year on July 1.
“Without question, I think we will for sure,” predicted Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio, 01).
His comments echoed those from Nick Casey, Governor Jim Justice’s chief of staff, about budget negotiations potentially picking up where they ended with Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) on the closing night of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session.
Justice announced a framework, reached with Carmichael, but it was not the version of the budget the Legislature ended up passing.
As Justice told it, the framework included a one percent increase to the consumer sales tax, his highways funding package and a corporate activities tax, or B&O tax, along with a tiered reduction to the state income tax.
Going forward, Ferns said the Senate would be unlikely to support that B&O tax.
“There are just better ways to come up with that amount of revenue,” he said. “I think that our caucus would be willing to compromise on some revenue enhancement. I don’t think that one is the best course.”
Compromise may be found on steps to broaden the tax base by lifting existing sales tax exemptions, as the House previously approved. The final House vote was 52-48.
“Earlier in the session, they had passed out their own tax plan that I think they referred to as ‘tax reform,’ but it contained several tax increases in it,” Ferns said. He said he’s heard from several House members that the direction the Senate is going “is something that they can get on board with.”
The kinds of discussions that happened near the session’s end should have started earlier, according to Ferns.
“I think if a lot of the back and forth had been avoided early on in the session, rather than waiting until the last couple of days or the final hours, I think we probably could have reach a compromise sooner,” he said.
Last week, Governor Justice vetoed the Legislature’s budget, which made $110 million in spending cuts and took $90 million from Rainy Day Funds, and used a cow patty from his daughter’s Greenbrier County farm to illustrate what he thought of it during a State Capitol event.
It’s an image that Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber Commerce, said stuck with many people who don’t follow State Capitol developments daily.
“I do think, to the little white houses, to the people outside of the Kanawha Valley echo chamber, he’s poking fun and I think a lot of those folks who aren’t voting on your poll find it funny too,” Bissett told Hoppy Kercheval on Monday.
“Those are people external to the political process, but I do think there’s a populist aspect of it that does resonate.”
“I think people are embarrassed that we’re getting national attention for something like that,” he said of Justice’s cow patty prop.
“Had we worked together sooner than the final hours and were able to reach a compromise based on tax reform and reining in government spending, I think that could be the national story — a story of bipartisanship that’s happening in West Virginia that maybe is not happening hardly anywhere else in the country.”
Instead, the national and international headlines for the Mountain State are about cow manure.
In Bissett’s view, Justice successfully used the cow patty to capture the “collective attention of West Virginia.”
“The fact that you have a billionaire CEO who is communicating with an ‘everyman’ voice, if you will, is impressive and I think President Trump does the same thing,” he said.