CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is proposing a budget $27 million less than what Gov. Jim Justice had proposed spending.
To get that done, Senate leaders suggest trimming $10 million from the governor’s pledge to eliminate the waiting list for intellectual and developmental disabilities waivers.
The Senate majority also proposes cutting millions from Justice priority programs such as Jobs & Hope — formerly “Jim’s Dream” — and Communities in Schools.
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, in an interview following a budget presentation, noted that this is just a starting point.
The House Finance Committee is expected to propose its own budget proposal. And leaders from both houses expect to continue budget talks with the Governor’s Office into next week.
“To a great degree, the governor got the budget he wanted except for a couple of things,” said Blair, R-Berkeley. “And I’ve seen the House’s budget and what they’re working on, and we’re very similar.
“In turn, we have to look at what passes. We’ve got Senate bills on here that might not make it through the House. And vice versa for the House. But we’re relatively close budget-wise.”
Justice, at the start of the legislative session, proposed a General Revenue budget of $4.585 billion.
The budget the Senate is proposing is $4.558 billion.
The difference is $27 million.
The legislation the Senate has passed this legislative session includes both some cost-cutting measures and, in other areas, increased spending.
“A little bit of nudging around,” Blair said.
Those differences account for about $13 million. Another $14 million is on the table, no preference for it stated yet. That provides some flexibility.
The spending decision most likely to come under intense public scrutiny is on the IDD waivers.
The Senate budget proposes $10 million more than current spending. But that’s half what was proposed by the governor for the coming year.
Justice at the start of the legislative session publicly vowed to do away with a waiting list for families who use the program to help keep children with challenges at home.
Families who have children with disabilities filled the front rows of the budget hearing and stayed after it was over to express concern to Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.
During the budget session, Senator Ron Stollings asked about the IDD waiver.
“So the governor’s comments that he was going to do away with the wait list and cover that through the Medicaid surplus — just talk?” asked Stollings, D-Boone, a candidate for governor.
Then, referring to the full amount that had originally been proposed, Stollings commented, “There’s still a lot of people out there who would benefit from the $19 million.”
Blair, who noted that the total IDD expenditure is about $100 million a year, explained that he wants to wait and see if the amount originally proposed by the governor is necessary because a commitment would affect future budgets.
And he would like to see what affect additional spending truly has on the wait list.
“I think it’s a noble idea that the governor was trying to do, but the fact of the matter is $20 million would be base-building,” he said. “The wait list may reappear again immediately.”
Blair concluded, “We can actually monitor as we go through the year and see where the wait list grows even more.”
The other budget decision that drew questions was proposed cuts to Jobs & Hope and Communities in Schools, both favored programs of the governor.
“We’re reducing significantly the Communities in Schools. As I recall, that’s one of the governor’s big initiatives,” said Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha. “So what’s going on there to take that figure down so steeply?”
The Senate proposal shows Communities in Schools dropping from a proposed $4.9 million down to $400,000.
Senate Finance analysts said that money had been meant to help the program expand into dozens of new schools.
Jobs & Hope, which combines drug treatment with workforce training, shows a $10.5 million total reduction from what the governor proposed.
“If I recall correctly, that was one of the governor’s big things as well. Why were those decreased significantly?” Palumbo asked.
Palumbo asked how effective they’ve been. “Do we know if they’re doing anything?”
Not hearing a specific answer, Palumbo concluded, “OK, I guess that’s a good reason to cut the budget.”