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Tue March 11, 2014
The Three Bills Lawmakers Need to Balance the Budget
Members of the legislature are feeling the backlash of bills that failed on the final night of the session. There are three specific bills that are putting not only this year’s, but also next year’s budgets in jeopardy. Jeopardy of a lowered bond rating, something lawmakers do not want to let happen.
On the final night of the legislative session there were two bills that needed to pass—Senate Bill 344 and 345—in order to supplement the finances of some pretty important programs.
Public defenders, Child Protective Services, foster care, funds for the Salem Correctional Center and the Regional Jail Authority—without the passage of those two bills, those programs listed and more will go without needed funding for the rest of the year.
During the legislative process, the House amended both 344 and 345, taking $7 million from a special legislative fund and using it to expand the Aged and Disabled Waiver Program for seniors. They then recouped that $7 million from the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Fund.
“The agreement (last year) was that we would leave him $12 million to have operating expenses. The Senate intends to live up to that agreement,” said Senate Finance Chair Roman Prezioso.
“You’ve got new leadership in the House who probably wasn’t in the meetings when all of this happened and you’ve got an on going feud between the Speaker and the Attorney General. The Senate’s not going to get into that; we’re just going to live up to the agreement of $12 million.”
The House was also using one time money to expand a program for seniors—a worthy program Prezioso added—but expanding with money they couldn’t promise for next year.
But the extended session, the four days the House and Senate come together to work on the budget bill, that extended session can only be used for the budget. These two supplemental appropriations bills are dead and gone; unless the governor calls a special session, which Prezioso said is more than likely.
However, that’s not the only failed bill that greatly impacting the budget.
In House Bill 4333, the so-called Haircut Bill, Governor Tomblin took $39 million from special lottery funds and placed them back in the general revenue budget balancing Fiscal Year 2015, the budget year that begins in July.
Compromises with the House lessened it to $21 million and 4333 passed the Senate with 12 minutes left Saturday night. With little time for Delegates to take it up, the bill died. But that leaves a huge whole now for legislators to plug by cutting programs or raiding funds somewhere else.
Without 4333, the Senate has proposed plugging that whole with money from the Rainy Day Fund, but that number keeps growing. The governor’s proposed budget called for nearly $84 million from the fund, the Senate’s $125 and revenue estimates from the budget office are expected to drop by more than $50 million, making the Rainy Day share increase by that much more.
“The bond agencies came and told us we’re under a warning right now,” Prezioso said. “So, if they start to see that money dwindle away, that’s going to lower our bond ratings and that’s what we’re trying to prevent.”
“We can get by this year, but next year there are going to be some shortfalls too,” he said, “and if we have to continue to go into Rainy Day Funds, we’re going to be in big trouble with our bond rating.”
Prezioso said legislative leadership and the governor were scheduled to meet Tuesday to determine if a special session is necessary, or if lawmakers can continue the budget process without the three bills.
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