Gov. Jim Justice's Office has adjusted his 2018 budget proposal and, as a result, is asking lawmakers to change some appropriations in the plan, including reinstating some previously cut programs.
Justice's budget was submitted to lawmakers during his February State of the State Address and relies on $450 million in new taxes to close what was an estimated $497 million budget hole.
According to a letter sent to Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead dated March 16, Justice says the changes will result in a $54 million general revenue surplus in 2018.
The biggest of the changes made in the budget proposal is the smoothing of payments to the state Teacher's Retirement System Unfunded Liability program. That would result in a $43 million savings this year, but larger payments over the term of the smoothing, which Justice has previously said would be three years.
It includes the reinstatement of the $4.6 million general revenue budget of the Educational Broadcasting Authority, which is the legal name of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Justice proposed zeroing out the organization in his initial budget proposal, but the adjustment permits the agency to enter into a transition period with a state "land-grant institution of higher education," according to the letter.
General revenue adjustments in the letter also include decreasing the budget of the West Virginia Office of Miner's Health Safety and Training by $605,000 to increase the Department of Forestry's budget by $550,000, allowing for the rehiring of laid-off foresters.
In a press release Friday morning, the Department of Commerce announced they were immediately recalling 15 laid off foresters.
According to the letter, a fund transfer from the Office of Miner's Health Safety and Training and the collection of funds from existing vacancies within the Division of Forestry will fund the position through the end of the 2017 fiscal year until the 2018 adjustments the governor has asked for in his budget adjustment take effect.
The governor's letter calls for the elimination of the Office of Education Performance Audits at $1.1 million and increases the state School Aid Formula by $703,000.
The general revenue spending also calls for a reduction of $70 million in the governor's Department of Commerce "Save Our State" fund. Justice had originally asked for a $105 million line item for the fund to recruit new business development to the state.
Other appropriations adjustments include combining the Office of Technology and Division of Information Systems. It also combines the State Rail Authority and the Aeronautics Commission into the Division of Multimodal Transportation.