Sunday, March 20, 2016

WV Governor Gives Legislators an Excuse

Considering how much grief the legislative leadership has given him this session, it was awfully generous of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to give the Legislature an out on the budget bill debacle last week by releasing new revenue estimates that show the 2016-17 budget is even farther in the red than was projected in January.

That allowed legislators to throw up their hands and feign surprise that the state’s budget woes are so bad, and agree to have Tomblin call them back into special session later this spring to deal with the matter.

Afterward, Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, issued this statement: “We have worked diligently during the 60-day session to craft a balanced budget, and were prepared to pass a budget today based on the administration’s original revenue projections.”

Even as a freshman senator, Cole knows that’s disingenuous. The only option left for the Legislature was to pass the House’s critically flawed version of the budget bill.

With a key piece of the House plan missing — legislation to sweep more than $60 million of revenue out of various agency accounts died in Senate Finance — the only choice for budget conferees would have been to cobble together something that further raided the state’s Rainy Day reserve funds — beyond the $30 million in the House bill — and made additional spending cuts — beyond the $17 million of cuts in the House bill, on top of $148 million of cuts already in the governor’s budget plan.

That would have resulted in a bill which Tomblin had already said he would veto — a veto that would take two-thirds majorities in both houses to override. Which would have brought us back to a special session, anyway.

Tomblin, who knows more about putting a state budget together than anyone in the Capitol, understands that using one-time money to fill this year’s budget gap only pushes the deficit back another year, amounting to “kicking the can down the road” — hold it, isn’t that what House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, accused the PEIA Finance Board of doing earlier this year?

As for working diligently throughout the session to craft a budget, didn’t Tomblin take the unprecedented step of doing media interviews on day 30 of the session to express his frustration over the Legislature’s inaction to address budget deficits that were well known on day one of the session, not just on day 63?

Bottom line, in eliminating the sales tax on food — arguably the most stable of all taxes — and cutting business taxes, coupled with an unexpected plunge in natural gas prices, has destabilized the state budget.

Putting some stability back in the process isn’t going to be easy, particularly if the House remains adamant about no new taxes.

See the remainder of Phil Kabler’s column here.

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