Del. Butler addresses budget debate

The 2016 legislative session ended at midnight March 12 followed by a three-day extended session to work on the state budget.

West Virginia’s state Legislature is in session 60 days a year with occasional interim committee meetings throughout the rest of the year. We are considered to be part time; however I am working on something related to my legislative duties every day. I have also gotten back to my regular job as a local excavating contractor, and that helps me keep in close contact with a lot of people in our community.

When we ended the session in March the House of Delegates did pass a balanced budget without tax increases. The Senate passed a budget that was a little different because it depended on some tax increases. By the way, both of these budgets fully funded the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).

Consistent with the normal process we extended the session to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget. That work was very nearly completed but with only about a day remaining, the Governor threw us a major curve ball that reduced the revenue estimate by 92 million dollars, so the budget could not finalized.

The following is a brief explanation of the budget requirements, process, and some background. First, according to the West Virginia Constitution the budget has to be balanced; meaning that we cannot budget to spend more than we have. It is the governor’s responsibility to make calculations in advance and supply the legislature with the budget, at the beginning of the session. His budget must contain income estimates and the planned expenses. The House and Senate versions of the budget are dependent on figures supplied by the governor. They have to be done at the end of the session because legislation passed during the session may require more or less spending.

So, similar to any other legislation the House and Senate versions of the bill have to be compared and reconciled. When that is done the legislature’s version of the bill is presented to the governor for approval or veto. As explained earlier these last steps could not be completed because the Governor changed his income estimates at the last minute.

So why did the Governor reduce the income estimate? I was told that he did so for two reasons. One is because the income to the state is dropping very quickly due, in large part, to the over regulation of President Obama’s EPA and relatively low global energy prices; therefore the governor’s previous estimate was no longer expected to be correct. The other reason is because the governor wants to force the legislature to pass tax increases on citizens. The Senate seems to be willing to increase taxes. The House, myself included, is more inclined to refuse tax increases and use the money in the agency “slush funds”, and make targeted cuts, while we work to get government spending under control.

The deadline for completing the budget is June 30. Currently leaders in the Legislature and the Governor’s finance staff are trying to come up with a framework that they agree upon. When that is complete they plan to call us back in for a special session to try to pass any necessary legislation and a final budget.

There is a lot more history and politics to this. I will write again in a few days to relay concerns about tax increases and more specifics on Public Employees Insurance.

Delegate Jim Butler (R-14th)