WV budget passes, Day 60 of WV legislative session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state budget passed both houses of West Virginia’s Legislature today, the 60th day of the regular session.

Passage of the $4,381,808,884 budget bill is significantly ahead of recent years.

Eric Nelson

“It’s on third reading. Let’s all vote green,” said House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson this morning in very brief remarks.

The budget was passed unanimously on 3rd reading this morning in the House of Delegates. The Senate then concurred and also voted unanimously to pass it.

That avoided the drama of recent years, including last year when Gov. Jim Justice had a 10 p.m. press conference and announced a deal that surprised lawmakers of all stripes.

(Spoiler alert: The Legislature and the governor actually wound up working to June to hammer out a deal everyone could live with.)

The House majority wanted to suspend state constitutional rules on Friday evening to go ahead and vote out the budget on third reading. But the motion didn’t get the four fifths it needed so the passage vote was among the first orders of business this morning.

Nelson, R-Kanawha, had been rooting for a Friday night conclusion.

“It’s a very good product. Why wait a day? Why wait a day?” Nelson said Friday evening. “We’ll still get it done. First time ever we’ve gotten it done within the regular session.”

Republicans actually wanted to pass the budget bill two days ago, but Democrats have expressed caution. That was the subject of a Twitter exchange on Friday evening between Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns and House Minority Leader Tim Miley.

The subtext was a parliamentary fiasco that occurred last Saturday night in the Senate, when the wrong language in a pay raise bill for teachers was passed and had to be recalled.

Even in normal years, the Legislature usually has to take a little extra time after the regular session to reconcile the budget. Often that means a conference committee.

Governor Justice announced earlier this week that he would exercise his constitutional prerogative to allow one additional day beyond the regular session if the Legislature needs it.

Craig Blair

That wasn’t necessary this year.

“We worked together with the House and the Senate and the members of both parties to get this passed,” said Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair. “I’m excited.”

A key factor is the biggest fight was fought earlier in the session.

That was the ongoing battle over pay raises for teachers and other public employees. It resulted in classrooms across West Virginia being closed for nine days.

But the end result was an average 5 percent raise for educators as well as average 5 percent raises for many other public employees.

That was worked out at the middle of this week, reopening schools and also settling most disagreements over how to spend any revenue beyond the basics.

The 5 percent to school personnel and for many other state employees amounts to about $111 million.

Then you add $29 million to freeze the Public Employees Insurance Agency plan for the coming fiscal year.

Another $14 million goes to an annual state share of retirement payments, brought up because of the other moves.

So, the budget includes roughly $150 million in total new compensation.

To do so, some spending items had to go.

Governor Justice proposed raising the state revenue estimate by $58 million, but lawmakers elected not to immediately count on that and, instead, to see if it really comes through.

Instead, there will be some reductions of spending that had been intended earlier, plus some transfers.

A $46 million spending increase Justice had advocated for the Division of Commerce and the Department of Tourism is on hold.

Another $18 million the state had planned to perform deferred maintenance on public properties will remain deferred.

A community and technical college bill that would have subsidized tuition for some students will go on the shelf. That bill, championed by Carmichael, amounted to $7 million.

There will be a $14 million transfer of Lottery revenue.

A $12 million annual transfer from the General Fund to the Road Fund will go un-transferred.

And $13.5 million that would have gone toward paying down what remains of West Virginia’s workers compensation fund debt will be held back.

The medical services line item for Medicaid is being cut by about $10 million but may be backfilled, legislative leaders have said.

“It’s sound. It’s fiscally responsible. And more importantly it respects the taxpayers of West Virginia,” said Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas.

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