CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ahead of the start of the West Virginia Legislature’s regular session, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said they are feeling optimistic about where lawmakers are starting this year.
“Things are looking good for West Virginia,” Carmichael said at the state Capitol.
The 2017 legislative session saw Republican lawmakers, Gov. Jim Justice and Democratic legislators go back and forth over budgetary issues. The state Legislature passed a $4.2 billion budget last year without Justice’s signature. The budget included a $16 million cut to higher education and transfers and expected surpluses to fill any holes.
Since that time, Justice left the Democratic Party to become a Republican, giving the GOP control over two of the state three branches of government. Voters also passed the $1.6 billion road bond, in which Carmichael and Armstead stood by the governor’s side in October to celebrate the referendum’s passage and the quickness of the related special session.
Armstead said this coupled with previous actions has set legislators up for creating policies aimed at boosting the state’s economy.
“I think we are where we can start looking at the long term and ways to ensure that we have created an atmosphere in our state based on the progress we have already made over the last three years,” Armstead said.
Lawmakers spent interim meetings this week discussing what issues to tackle, including the state’s vehicle fleet and pay increases for corrections officers. One issue the state Legislature will not have to address, Carmichael and Armstead said, is a budget deficit; state revenue officials reported earlier this month West Virginia was nearly $106 million above estimates in December 2017 compared to December 2016.
“This is a year that we don’t have to face a budget that is underwater,” Carmichael said.
Armstead agreed, comparing the 2017 budgetary issue to a “huge black cloud.”
“I don’t think we’re out of the woods,” he said. “But for the first time, we are coming into this session for the first time in a few years that we’re not looking at this huge, multi-million dollar deficit.”
Carmichael added when Justice gives his State of the State address Wednesday evening, he will have plenty of accomplishments to mention.
“While I haven’t reviewed the speech that he will be preparing, he has a wonderful message about the progress that we’ve obtained here in West Virginia.,” he said.
He noted Senate Republicans are “all-in” with Justice regarding policy.
The regular session is scheduled to go through March 10.