CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Justice administration has announced its call for the special session meant for legislators to work out a deal on the state budget, although there’s still no consensus on passage.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael has been talking enthusiastically about the budget proposal. House Speaker Tim Armstead has been saying his caucus is unlikely to support the tax structure under consideration.
Legislators returning to the Capitol on Thursday will be considering four bills.
One is a revenue bill meant to be the main piece of a larger budget bill, two more deal with funding for highway and bridge improvements and the last deals with an average 2 percent payraise for classroom teachers.
“The four bills are the result of bipartisan negotiations,” according to the news release from the governor’s office.
Armstead has contended they are not the result of bicameral negotiations, though. The Speaker says talks he participated in Tuesday represented the first time House leadership had worked with the Justice administration in a little more than two weeks.
“We needed to be in the room together for the last couple of weeks, and that didn’t happen,” Armstead said today on “Talkline.”
Legislators will return to session at 11 a.m. Thursday with the Senate likely dealing with the bills first. A few lawmakers were already at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, walking through the Rotunda.
Some speculation has the Senate dealing with the bills quickly, possibly suspending rules to quickly move them through first, second and third reading.
Senate leadership has been negotiating directly with Gov. Jim Justice on a budget compromise since the end of the regular 60-day session. The Senate also already passed bills raising gasoline taxes, DMV fees and the state’s highway tolling ability during the regular session.
The package that will be under consideration blends the Senate majority’s desire to cut the state income tax with the governor’s tax proposals.
A tiered system for severance taxes has been negotiated behind the scenes, with coal and natural gas representatives in talks with elected leaders; a controversial commercial activities tax is being switched to an increase in the corporate net income tax; and the proposal to reduce the personal income tax while raising the states sales tax has support in the Senate but faces skepticism in the House.
The revenue bill also includes a measure exempting military retirement from the personal income tax, additional lump sum taxes on those who make more than $300,000 a year, and an increase on tax credits for rehabilitation expenses on historic structures.
Legislators will also be considering the governor’s proposals to raise fuel taxes and fees at the Division of Motor Vehicles to provide millions of dollars in funding for highway and bridge improvements. He says that will create thousands of jobs and spark the state’s economy. The House majority would prefer to first let citizens vote on a bond proposal for highways.
Justice said the overall budget package will jumpstart the state economy through the income tax break and the funding for highways projects. He said it largely avoids the use of the Rainy Day Fund or the kind of cuts to higher education and healthcare that were included in a budget he vetoed last month.
“I don’t see how in the world any legislator can walk away from this opportunity. The vote needs to be 34-0 and 100-0 and signed by me,” Governor Justice said last week when he announced his intention to call the special session.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime in the most dire situation.”
The most resistance to the budget package is likely to come from the House of Delegates, where the Republican majority has raised issues with various aspects of the proposal.
“I have heard from my members every day almost constantly about their concerns with this plan,” Armstead said today. “They’re not just digging their heels in saying no. We’ve come forward with proposals; we’ve come forward with ideas.
“Our members have very serious concerns about this, and to characterize this as if they’re just standing in the way is just wrong.”
Carmichael has emphasized the part of the budget package that cuts the state income tax. The Senate President said he hopes his Republican colleagues in the House come around to that viewpoint too.
“I’m hopeful that as they learn more about this concept of cutting taxes and living within your means that a Republican-led Legislature would embrace that approach,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.
But if Republicans in the House don’t embrace that plan, Carmichael said, a new plan will be necessary.
“I guess it would be incumbent upon the House to offer their plan,” he said. “If they don’t agree with this, show us a different path.”