Legislative session ends, but still work to do on budget

The Legislature wrapped up its one day extension of the regular session last night without any real consensus among both chambers and Governor Justice on a budget.

Yes, the House and Senate did pass a spending plan, but even as the House was working on that document, the Governor was telling reporters he had put together a different framework with Senate President Mitch Carmichael.

Carmichael told MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny that the Governor would likely veto the bill that passed both chambers and then call a special session later after all parties had reached agreement.

The final hours were illustrative of just how difficult it has been over the last two months to bring the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats and the Governor to a common place on the budget.

The fundamental disagreements extend back to the very beginning of the session when Republicans believed the Governor was planning to cut spending by several hundred million dollars. They were stunned that Justice changed course and opted for higher taxes and minimal cuts.

Then Justice crisscrossed the state, held town hall meetings and gave multiple interviews arguing for his position, while frequently criticizing Republicans, often with colorful and pejorative language.  GOP leaders tried to tune out Justice and develop their own budget, but they struggled mightily to rally around one plan.

Late in the session, the Justice administration started direct negotiation with House leaders on a budget, and at one point they appeared close. However, as those discussions collapsed, the Governor and Carmichael started talks.

It was those discussions that led Justice to tell reporters late Saturday night that he was hopeful about a possible new deal.  However, that caught House Republican leaders by surprise, triggering tension between Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead.

So, what does it all mean?

First, the House and Senate have passed a budget, but it’s likely DOA with the Governor.

Second, the Governor and Carmichael have come up with their own framework, but the House is not on board.

Third, all parties need a break. The principals and their staffs are tired and frayed. They need to take some time and cool down.  They should spend Easter with their families and forget about the budget for awhile.

Fourth, there is still time. The new fiscal year does not begin for nearly three months.  The players can have informal negotiations without bringing the Legislature back into full session. The special session to work on the budget can come after a framework has been established.

And finally, it’s not all that surprising there is no budget yet.  There are no easy options given the state’s financial condition, and all sides have strong-willed people who believe they know what’s best for the state of West Virginia.

Now it’s time for some of that strength to be channeled toward the art of compromise.


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