WV Governor Justice urges lawmakers to reach agreement on 2017-18 budget

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Update: 6/6/2017 5:35 P.M.

Gov. Jim Justice

With a state budget deadline nearing at the end of June-and no agreement in sight-West Virginia's governor is calling on lawmakers to get the job done.

Gov. Jim Justice says a budget agreement with Senate lawmakers-one the House has rejected, beginning at the end of the regular legislative session-says has taken into account concerns by the House about a reduction in the consumer sales tax, and a call for income tax reform by the Senate.

He adds Senators have made concessions on the sales tax measure, since it was first considered by lawmakers.

"You have people trying to re-trade the deal," Justice said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference at the state capital. "We'll never have a perfect deal. It's as good as it's going to get, and, not only that-and forgive me-it's damn good."

Delegates against the plan point to their own spending package, approved in April, which a local lawmaker says is fair and within the revenue projections the governor presented the legislature earlier this year.

The governor says that plan includes spending reductions that are too deep, and doesn't fund some of his own proposals such as teacher pay raises.

Justice said Tuesday while he's discussed contingency plans with West Virginia state agencies, he believes "in his heart" the state can avoid a government shutdown July first, if a budget is not approved by then.

Legislators in 2016 also went well into June before the final passage of the current spending plan.

Update: 5/30/2017 6:45 P.M.

West Virginia lawmakers have spent part of their time away from Charleston discussing the state budget with their constituents.

There's a bit of nervousness, one says, with the budget that hasn't yet been passed due to take effect July first.

"Most of the fear seems to be that we're going to end up with a government shutdown," says Delegate John Kelly, Republican, Wood County. "I don't believe that's going to happen."

While the House has passed a budget, the state Senate has focused on tax reform, approving a tax reform measure, one a local senator believes would best wait after a budget is finalized.

Nonetheless, Pleasants County Republican Donna Boley voted with the majority to approve a tax measure the House rejected.

"I support the Senate. But I think the House's bill has a lot of good things," Boley says. "They want to do away with the Social Security tax. So I think the Senate leadership has to start looking at what the House is saying, and get that budget out now."

The Senate bill raises the state sales tax while eliminating the income tax. Kelly says that won't balance the state budget.

"Who benefits from the elimination of the personal income tax, and who's going to suffer," Kelly says. "We still have to balance the budget, and, unfortunately, that balance is going to have to be on the backs of someone."

Gov. Jim Justice, who vetoed the budget the legislature passed in April, is meeting this week separately with state legislative leaders. Lawmakers are to go back into session Monday, June 5.

5/5/2017 5:20 P.M.

It's safe to say West Virginia's special legislative session is not off to a good start-and may soon be over for the time being.

The House of Delegates Thursday flatly rejected Gov. Jim Justice's proposed budget for fiscal 2017-2018.

The Senate was in session Friday, but dealing mainly with tax reform issues.

The bill the Senate dealt with Friday cuts state income taxes while raising sales taxes.

It would also eliminate tax exemptions for cell phone services.

But there's been no further movement on the budget, something one local lawmaker states won't happen until the governor starts talking with both the House and Senate.

"I don't want to see the food tax put back on, or raise the gas tax, if possible," said Sen. Donna Boley (R-Pleasants County). "That affects the people living on the borders, and they can just as easily go across to the other states. I just think the House and the governor have to come to some kind of agreement, and they are so far apart."

Sen.. Mike Azinger (R-Wood County) said late Friday afternoon the special session may be recessed once the Senate tax bill is considered. He said it is hoped negotiations could begin on a budget measure both houses would eventually consider.

Boley said earlier Friday any tax reform should be considered-perhaps later in the summer-only after the budget process is resolved.


Through what is becoming his trademark drawings and props, Gov. Jim Justice made It clear how he felt about the fiscal year budget approved at the end of the 60-day regular legislative session.

"We don't have a nothing-burger. And we don't have a mayonnaise sandwich today. But what we have is a bunch of political bull-you-know-what."

That brought this reply from Del. John Kelly, R-Wood County: "I believe management from the top of our state is coming from the Beverly Hillbillies."

The governor's veto was the result of displeasure over the legislature's failure to go along with tax increases and his desire to fully fund several state programs. Kelly says those programs were funded based on Justice's own revenue projections.

"We did not fund his road program," Kelly went on to say. "We did give him the ability to go to the voters and see if they wanted to accept the road program through bonds."

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants County, was just less emphatic than Kelly. She says, had Justice approved the budget, money could eventually have been found to restore some of the funding reductions.

"I think the revenue is picking up. We could go in and backfill the (Department of Health and Human Resources), WVU and higher ed. But now, we're back to square one."

But legislators are headed back to Charleston. And because the session took place a month later than last year's, there's less time to come up with a budget the governor can agree to, than they had in 2016.

West Virginia's Democratic Gov. Jim Justice has vetoed the state budget approved last weekend by the Republican-controlled Legislature, criticizing the cuts and lawmakers.

Justice, who on Saturday night announced he was near a deal with the Senate Republican leadership to limit budget cuts and overhaul taxes, has formally rejected the spending plan the Legislature subsequently approved.

It would cut spending for the state's colleges and universities and Medicaid for low-income residents. It would also apply $90 million from the state's rainy day fund to close a projected budget deficit.

Justice has proposed smaller cuts plus increases in sales and gasoline taxes. The gas tax would fund bonding for road reconstruction and jobs.

Lawmakers will have to return to try to resolve the disagreement, needing two-thirds support to override the veto.

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