On the House floor Friday, Delegates were set to consider a bill recently approved by the Senate - a bill to help balance the 2016 budget. Senate Bill 364 was on second reading until members of the GOP majority made a tactical move to block a Democratic amendment.
Senate Bill 364 should have been read for a second time on the House floor Friday, but after a move by House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, it was held over - at first with no explanation.
The bill would pull some 52 million dollars from the state’s Rainy Day fund to help balance the current budget. Governor Tomblin’s budget officials say the state will end the fiscal year with a 384 million dollar budget gap, but West Virginia lawmakers are constitutionally required to balance the budget each fiscal year.
Democrats aimed to amend the Senate bill by taking additional dollars from the Rainy Day account to help fund state employee healthcare benefits through PEIA or the Public Employees Insurance Agency. The state is struggling to fully fund the benefits and has proposed increasing the amount employees pay for health insurance coverage.
Democrats like Delegate Isaac Sponaugle of Pendleton County jumped on the move by the majority party during the remarks portion of the floor session.
“We believe, we truly believe with over 800 million dollars in the Rainy Day Fund in the state of West Virginia, it’s raining on teachers. There’s a 120 million dollar shortfall. This past year, which we’re talking about, the 35 million dollars in benefit cuts and 33 million dollars drained out of the account. Now this does not put all of 120 million dollars back into the account, but it’s a start.” - Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton County
Speaker Tim Armstead says the attempted Democratic amendment was a political maneuver, not a real solution to fixing the PEIA funding problem.
“We’re trying to work through the issue of addressing both the PEIA needs and the immediate budget needs of the state, and I don’t think they’re trying to that. I think they’re trying to play political games to try to say, and so they can run out and say, oh, you know, everyone voted against PEIA, no we’re working toward a solution on PEIA with the governor...but the Democrats have come out against their own governor’s proposal to solve the PEIA issue...they’re trying to take the money that their own governor says needs to be put in place to pay our bills now in order to solve this problem, and I don’t think that’s a solution that will work.” - House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha County
Senate Bill 364 will be back on the House calendar Monday. Governor Tomblin’s administration is calling the bill critical to funding the state for the remainder of the fiscal year and has asked lawmakers to approve it by the end of next week.