CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s new budget might not be beautiful, but legislators have finally agreed on it.

The state Senate voted 19-8 Friday night to pass a $4.225 billion budget that limited cuts to Medicaid and higher education through use of transfers and expected surpluses.

Daryl Cowles

The House of Delegates then voted 64-25 in favor of the budget bill at about 10 p.m. after more than an hour of debate.

What remains in this saga for the governor to decide whether he will accept the budget. The Legislature adjourned until June 26, a date necessary only if there are problems still to be worked out.

“We’ve won the day for the most part on the budget,” Cowles, R-Morgan, said during a floor debate.

That capped a budget battle that bubbled up during last fall’s gubernatorial election, flowed through the 60-day regular legislative session, and then blerched into a 20-day stop-and-go special session where the governor sometimes acted as mediator and sometimes as instigator.

The bill did not include the personal income tax cuts that Senate Republicans have been advocating for months.

It also did not take into account any measures to raise additional revenue.

Mike Hall

Explaining the bill, Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall said it was not a thing of beauty. But Hall said it was about as good as the Legislature was going to be able to do while up on deadline for a new fiscal year.

“This is a balanced budget, constitutionally, maybe it’s tight,” said Hall, R-Putnam.

Legislators several times have said Monday is the deadline for to have a new budget in place and ensure agencies can make the next payroll.

 

The budget structure is expected to preserve Medicaid funding. A budget the Senate passed earlier this week would have cut about $34 million from Medicaid funding that is subject to a 3-to-1 federal match.

Higher education was cut by about $16 million, up from a version that earlier passed the House. That was still less than the $33 million higher education cut in a budget bill the Senate passed this week.

Senate Democrats questioned the sustainability of budgets built on expected surpluses and expressed disappointment that a revenue bill the Senate passed the prior night had not survived a vote in the House of Delegates.

Mike Romano

“I just can’t believe we’ve come to this after all this,” said Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison.

The Senate’s most recent revenue bill raised the sales tax to 6.5 percent and extended the sales tax to previously exempt areas of the economy. It also included a tiered severance tax system advocated by Gov. Jim Justice.

Delegates today voted to amend their own revenue bill into the Senate’s. The House’s version had no sales tax increase and no income tax reductions, but raised revenue through the removal of sales tax exemptions.

The Senate did not take up that bill and just passed the budget bill at exactly the state revenue estimate of $4.225 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, in a brief interview after the Senate vote, said the two houses just were not particularly interested in the structure of each other’s revenue bills.

“We’ve already passed the budget, and I don’t think there’s any interest in the House in prolonging the process any or considering any other options,” said Ferns, R-Ohio. “We’ve moved forward with our budget.”

Larry Rowe

In the House of Delegates, Democrats objected to the higher education cuts in the budget bill.

“To balance the budget on the backs of these students and these families who are drowning in students loans is wrong,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “It’s worse than that; it’s immoral.”

Republican Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, also questioned the wisdom of increasing higher education cuts from what the House earlier passed.

“It strikes me as odd,” Zatezalo said.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, noted that a budget bill similar to the one under debate Friday night had already passed the House 69-30 earlier this week.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say we’re balancing this budget on the throats of college students,” Fast said.

As the special session wound toward its conclusion, most delegates concluded that if the bill wasn’t perfect at least it was one they could pass.

“We’re now about where I thought we’d be when we showed up in early May,” said Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell. “Everyone’s mad.”

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