For the first time since 2009, the West Virginia Legislature ended their annual 60-day regular session without a budget, thanks to games played by Democrats.
The second session of the 82nd Legislature ended Saturday, March 12, at midnight, gaveled out, then gaveled back in so the House of Delegates and the state Senate could work out differences in their budget proposals. Two days later, they gaveled out again without a budget to send to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
To hear Tomblin and his Democrat colleagues in the Legislative talk, you’d think the Republicans failed in their duty to create a balanced budget. Newspapers friendly to Democrats have also parroted this line.
Here is the real story:
- Tomblin presented the Legislature a budget that could only be balanced by tax increases.
- The minorities in both chambers spent the last 60 days trying to thwart efforts by Republicans to present a balanced budget without tax increases.
- During the extended budget session, Tomblin told lawmakers that the 2017 budget he proposed was now short by $92 million thanks to new revenue projections.
During his State of the State address in January, Tomblin proposed a $4.3 billion general revenue budget his staff tried to call balanced. It wasn’t: it was contingent on several tax increases, including a 45 cent tobacco tax increase (as well as taxing e-cigarettes), and removing the telecommunications sales tax exemption. Combined, both taxes would have brought in $138.9 million per year.
Without these tax increase bills passing, Tomblin’s budget wasn’t even close to being balanced. That’s not budgeting; that’s gambling in an election year. Even Democrats were unwilling to remove the telecommunications sales tax exemption. The Senate, despite a no vote from President Bill Cole (R-Mercer), passed a bill raising the tobacco tax by $1.
The House leadership decided even a 45 cent increase was too high. The increase was voted down in committee. The House presented a balanced budget from one-time sweeps of agency accounts and using the state’s revenue shortfall fund. Combined with other cuts and supplemental appropriations, the House budget did what Tomblin’s budget did not do.
The problem on the House end was obstruction by Democrats keen on making Republicans look like budget bad guys. Despite fully funding the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency in the House budget plan, Democrats tried to hold up votes on various bills or tried to amendment bills to include PEIA funding. This was to create a situation where they could say Republicans were voting against funding for the health insurance of public employees. Bills needed to make up the 2017 budget shortfall were also stalled by procedural motions on the last day of session.
To make matter worse, the Tomblin administration waited until the final day of the extended budget session to tell lawmakers that their revenue projections were off more than $92 million. That left budget conferees just 12 hours to try to craft a balanced budget. Wisely the Legislature decided to gavel out. The Senate, House, and Governor’s office are now negotiating a new budget and when they come to an agreement, a special session will be called to pass
The Senate, House, and Governor’s office are now negotiating a new budget and when they come to an agreement, a special session will be called to pass the budget. But the Governor’s office is still trying to make lawmakers into bad guys, even threatening to call the PEIA Board into a meeting next week to institute draconian cuts to public employee and retiree health care plans.
Democrats are willing to take West Virginia to the brink of a shut down in order to hurt Republicans in an important election year. West Virginia’s voters need to see through this and hold those who put us in this economic situation responsible.