CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Legislature passed a budget and only needed an hour and a half of the extended session called by the governor.
But what passed wasn’t the Senate’s plan or the House’s plan or even the governor’s plan.
So what was that budget that the Senate passed just before midnight Saturday and the House of Delegates passed about 1:30 a.m. Sunday?
It was a platypus.
That’s to say it functions and fulfills the Legislature’s constitutional duty of coming up with a budget. But hardly anybody believes it is beautiful.
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“The budget that we passed tonight included $90 million from Rainy Day Funds, and it’s not a budget that the governor has agreed to. I fully recognize that,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said early Sunday morning.
“It is a budget that we put together in a thoughtful manner and it makes some fundamental adjustments to the budgeting process in West Virginia. It really does pull our budget in line. It doesn’t continue to expand spending or increase expenditures for the state.”
It is not likely to live long because of Gov. Jim Justice’s probable veto.
What made this budget particularly confusing was Justice’s public declaration about 10 p.m. Saturday that his administration was closing in a deal with the Senate.
But that wasn’t what passed Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Instead, this was a document that leaders and staff of both houses had been working among themselves to compromise on since about Wednesday.
It’s one that House Speaker Tim Armstead says he would like to keep, even if he realizes the governor’s veto is just around the bend.
“We did pass a budget tonight. We feel it’s a responsible budget,” Armstead said early Sunday morning. “I know the governor has threatened to veto it but I think he needs to look at it because I think this budget reflects the sentiment of both the House and the Senate that we need to live within our means. We cannot continue this growth of government.”
Armstead says the governor should take a good, long look at the existing budget too.
“I urge the governor to sign this budget. If he does not sign this budget, I don’t really see a great deal of movement by members of this Legislature toward the tax increases he proposed all 60 days we’ve been here,” said Armstead, R-Kanawha.
The $4.1 billion budget that passed maintains its balance in part by using $90 million out of the Rainy Day Fund.
House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, questioned about the budget, acknowledged recent dips into reserves plus the one in this budget would pull the state below the 15 percent of general revenue mark that leaders try to maintain.
The Rainy Day Fund had been at about $630 million. Recent deductions would put it at $540 million. With a general revenue budget of about $4 billion, that puts the state at about 13 percent.
The budget also has a $140 million cut to the medical services line in DHHR. The medical services line item is reduced from $490 million to $350 million.
Nelson noted that money is subject to federal matching dollars. He did say it’s a small portion of the overall DHHR budget and potentially could be managed by delaying payments or through an upturn in state revenue.
“It’s a very large budget over 12 months, so from that stand point the secretary could manage that and to the extent we see the continued improvement in our economy, if that trend would continue into next year, a supplemental appropriation could be made to restore those monies,” said Nelson, R-Kanawha.
The Senate’s original budget had cuts to the developmental and senior waiver programs, although the House’s version did not. This version does not.
“The Senate budget, the initial one, had a 3 percent cut across every single line item in DHHR. This funding assumes full funding for IDD/ADD,” Nelson said.
Higher education continues to have the same cut of just under $30 million. The original House budget had lumped the 4-year colleges into a single line item with funding to be determined by the Higher Education Policy Commission, and community and technical colleges were lumped together too.
In this budget, they’re separated again.
Most state colleges have a 4-percent across-the-board cut. West Virginia and Marshall universities have an 8.5 percent cut.
For WVU, that’s a $9 million cut, leaving $96 million in state funding. For Marshall, that’s a $4 million cut, leaving $42 million in state funding.
Public education is relatively unchanged from current funding. The Senate bill had an $80 million cut that it intended to make up through an increase in property taxes. The property tax bill died but funding is maintained.
The Department of Education and the Arts is still a funded, separate agency. The House budget had done away with it and moved many of its agencies to other departments. The secretary maintains its budget.
Public broadcasting, zeroed out in the Senate budget, gets a million-dollar cut but maintains operation. Fairs and festivals, zeroed out in the governor’s budget proposal, is funded at 80 percent.
There is no money in this budget for the governor’s Save Our State fund for infrastructure and economic development.
There’s also no money for a classroom teacher payraise or for payraises for any state employees.
“There are absolutely no tax increases in this budget proposal,” Nelson said.
That’s in part because any bill that included a tax increase died one way or another during the past 60 days.
The House’s original $4.24 billion version would have included a $137 million “broadening the base” tax proposal, including a new tax on cellphones and landlines to raise millions in new revenue.
The Senate’s original $4.102 billion budget proposal made good on the GOP leadership’s promise to keep spending in line with revenue estimates for the coming fiscal year. The Senate budget made significant cuts to higher education and healthcare.
Armstead said he is coming to like the latest version of the budget. He said the rest of the Republican majority in the House does too. The House passed it 63-37.
“This budget was passed overwhelmingly,” Armstead said. “There was excitement because I think many people felt like it reflected what really must happen.
“There were cuts that we did not look forward to making, but there was excitement about the fact that we finally got an honest debate and discussion and looked at what the true size of government should be and what we can afford.”