The 2017 session of the West Virginia Legislature began on Wednesday, Feb. 8. We will be at the Capitol working on legislation for the next 60 days and as I have done each week of the session for my four years here, I will try to write a summary to explain how the legislative process works, my experiences, how I vote on issues, and why.
There are 100 members of the West Virginia House of Delegates and 34 members of the State Senate; these make up the Legislature. In order to become a law a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate, and then be signed into law by the Governor. The Governor can stop a bill by vetoing it, but the House and Senate can override the veto by a simple majority. One exception to that is that it takes two thirds of the members of the Legislature to override the Governor’s veto on a budget bill.
Speaking of budget; that is the elephant in the room again this year. According to the West Virginia Constitution it is the responsibility of the Governor’s office to estimate revenue and build a budget every year. Once again, largely because of extreme regulations placed upon the coal industry by President Obama’s EPA, revenue has fallen well short of projections so we have a hole in the 2017 budget of about $125 million, and $450 million for the 2018 budget. This year the Governor proposed filling the 2017 budget hole with money from the state’s Revenue Shortfall Fund, and he proposed filling the 2018 hole by increasing taxes on West Virginians by about $400 million and about $26 million in cuts. The remainder of the shortfall is made up with transfers of other funds. Incredibly he also proposed $318 million in new spending.
These proposals by the Governor were very disappointing to many of us in the Legislature who remember Governor Justice’s promises to balance the budget without raising taxes on citizens. Our options now are to pass his budget, including his tax increases, or to develop an alternative budget.
Last year as a member of the Finance Committee I assembled a small group of delegates to look closely at specific accounts. We successfully identified over $100 million in savings and sweeps from unused government accounts to help balance the budget. We are back at it now to find additional areas to consolidate, streamline, and reduce; it is going to be much more difficult this year though because of previous sweeps and cuts. It is also more difficult for the Legislature to make targeted cuts than it would be for the Governor because the department heads work directly for him; they are not as responsive to the Legislature.
I am on the Finance Committee again so my main focus will be on the budget. I have also been appointed to be the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, so I will be running those committee meetings to try to keep all West Virginians safe. I remain on the Roads and Transportation Committee, and I have a new assignment this year, which is to the Health Committee.
As you can imagine I am already very busy. I ask for God’s guidance and for your prayers, for all of us, as we face one of the most difficult budget years in modern history. It is an honor to serve you.
Respectfully, Delegate Jim Butler
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry), represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.