W.Va. Legislature Passes Budget with Cuts, No Tax Increases

Jun 17, 2017

Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

On Friday, both chambers of the state Legislature adopted a $4.225 billion general revenue budget without additional tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Lawmakers in both houses emphasized the need to get a budget adopted before the state's new year starts in two weeks with many state workers otherwise facing furloughs and a shutdown in many state services.

That budget consequently has deeper cuts in funding for state colleges and universities than it would have with either chamber's tax legislation. It still would preserve Medicaid and the 3-to-1 federal match for poor residents' health care.

The Senate voted 19-8 to adopt the budget. The House followed, voting 64-25 to pass it.

"This is an immoral budget," said Del. Larry Rowe, a Charleston Democrat. "It's being balanced on the backs of young people."

Students will face higher tuition and more debt, Rowe said.

"What would you rather have, a shutdown?" said Del. Michael Folk, a Martinsburg Republican. "This is the best compromise you're going to get."

The tuition increases will be less than they've been in the past, Folk said.

"This is much, much better for higher education than some of the drastic cuts that were floated out in the past," House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles said.

The Republican-controlled House earlier had voted 67-22 to substitute its tax plan to broaden the sales tax to cellphone service and digital products but leave the tax rate at 6 percent. It would have added an estimated $67 million in additional tax receipts. It would also have exempted military retirement pay from income taxes and Social Security for residents with annual incomes less than $100,000. It would also increase those earners' personal exemptions by $500, to $2,500.

"This is the least offensive way to raise that revenue," said Del. John Shott, a Bluefield Republican. "It allows the Senate to correct the error of its ways."

However, the Senate met later, didn't touch it and instead adopted again a slightly smaller budget.

The Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday night had voted 30-2 for legislation that would have raised the sales tax to 6.5 percent, cut income tax rates initially 5 percent and established tiered coal production tax rates. The Senate bill also would have exempted military retirement pay and most Social Security benefits. The Senate that night also approved a $4.33 billion budget with smaller cuts to higher education and other programs.

Gov. Jim Justice, a Democrat, supported that approach. The approved budget now goes to him for signing or veto.