Justice will allow budget to become law without signature

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia will start the new Fiscal Year on July 1 with a budget, the Legislature’s $4.2 billion budget balanced with cuts.

After criticizing that spending plan Wednesday morning at the state Capitol, Justice said he couldn’t sign the budget but he couldn’t veto it either.

Justice saying he’s not vetoing the budget in order to avoid a state government shutdown.

Updated story with Statewide Correspondent Brad McElhinny.


Although state residents are wondering if the governor will approve or veto a $4.225 billion budget that the Legislature passed on Friday, the announcement gave little hint of the governor’s intentions.

“Tomorrow, Governor Jim Justice will make a major budget announcement at the State Capitol” is all the announcement said.

The state is right up against the new fiscal year July 1. State agencies are still trying to make plans, and time needs to be allowed for state systems to process the specifics of the budget.

Ryan Ferns

In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns said he hopes Justice will sign the budget.

“Given the time constraints and the small amount of time remaining in the fiscal year I would strongly encourage the governor to sign this budget,” said Ferns, R-Ohio.

Justice had joined Senate Republicans in pushing until late last week for a bill that would have increased revenue for the coming fiscal year while also decreasing personal income taxes.

“It doesn’t mean we haven’t abandoned all efforts to, at some point, reach an agreement on tax reform. Given the time remaining the prudent decision would be to sign this budget and discuss tax reform again at a future date,” Ferns said.

The budget that passed out of the Legislature late Friday definitely wasn’t the one Justice had preferred.

At loggerheads over whose revenue plan was the best, the Senate and House of Delegates wound up choosing neither.

The Senate’s would have raised the sales tax to 6.5 percent but in turn cut the income tax by an average 20 percent over four years.

The House, which had shown never shown interest in the income tax cuts, rejected that plan and again put forth its proposal to broaden what economic sectors are subject to sales tax.

With no agreement on a path to raise revenue, the Senate and House went with a budget that spends only within the estimated $4.225 billion in revenue for the coming year.

That plan does keep Medicaid spending level through use of transfers and expected surpluses. And this version of the budget cuts higher education by an estimated $16 million.

The higher education spending reduction caused outcry among Democrats — and also raised some misgivings among Republicans.

But in the end, most lawmakers said they were finally up against deadline and had to get something passed, even if it wasn’t perfect. They passed what they passed and adjourned until June 26.

Justice had preferred a budget of $4.35 billion, which would have required tax increases of some sort.

The budget bill that did pass doesn’t have the governor’s preferred State of the State funding, a teacher pay raise or his tiered coal severance tax proposal.

Separate bills with funding for the governor’s roads package passed. Those bills — which will lead to higher DMV fees, a higher floor on the fluctuating wholesale gas tax and a higher luxury tax on vehicle purchases, as well as increased tolling capacity — affect the Road Fund, rather than the General Revenue Fund.

The governor has given few hints about what he’ll do.

Last week, as the deadline approached, the governor was asked what he would do about a budget that cuts state programs.

“We’re going to run up on a deadline, and if we run up on a deadline, you’ve got me faced with major cuts,” Justice said last Wednesday.

“Well, why are we doing this? Why are we hurting people when we don’t have to hurt ’em?”

National attention focused on Justice on April 13 when he unveiled a platter of bull excrement while vetoing a $4.1 billion budget bill.

That budget used $90 million from the state Rainy Day fund and cut $110 million in spending, most of that from higher education and the state Division of Health and Human Resources.

“What we have is nothing more than bunch of political bull you-know-what,” Justice said during that announcement.

“For that very reason, I’m signing my name on the budget veto, and I hope and pray that the silliness will stop and we’ll do the right thing.”

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