Ashton Marra Published

Tomblin Budget Plan Criticized by Lawmakers Looking for More Cuts


During a joint meeting, members of the House and Senate Finance Committees were presented with Governor Tomblin’s plan to balance the 2017 budget as well as close a $110 million gap in the current fiscal year.

While that plan makes some additional cuts, it also relies on increased tax revenues. 

Tomblin has presented lawmakers with a bill that includes new income from an increased cigarette tax, a new tax on cell phones and landlines, and a one percent bump to the state’s sales tax. The three new revenues combined are expected to bring in $330 million annually.

“The old adage that you don’t have a revenue problem, you have a spending problem, well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but that’s not the case here,” Department of Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss told lawmakers Monday. “We have a revenue problem.”

Department of Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss.

Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Department of Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss presented the governor’s budget proposal to lawmakers Monday.

That problem can largely be explained by declining natural gas and coal severance tax revenues. State revenue officials told lawmakers those declines are now also starting to affect income tax and sales tax collections.

But Tomblin’s plan to balance the budget is seen as insufficient by some members of the Legislature, like Republican Sen. Chris Walters from Kanawha County.

“If you notice on the call, everything is just a revenue enhancement, a tax increase,” Walters told Kiss. “Why did the governor’s office choose not to put any type of restructuring of government in his call?”

Kiss’s response: After weeks of negotiations between House and Senate leaders and the governor’s office, there was no final agreement for what should be placed on the governor’s special session call.

Kiss said because the deadline to approve a budget is quickly approaching—June 30– Tomblin decided to move forward with the session and his proposal.

“I’m telling you, it’s really hard for every member of this chamber, no matter which party you’re in, to go ask for a tax increase right now when you yourself and we all see that the revenues are down,” Republican Sen. Craig Blair told Kiss.

“To me, it tell me that the well’s dry and if we can’t cut revenue right now than when can we do it?”

Blair said in his years in the Legislature, he’s never voted for a tax increase before, but he’s willing to do it now because he feels like lawmakers are left with no other option.

“This governor has cut this budget by $3 or 400 million over the last several years so I don’t think it fair for anyone to characterize that he doesn’t have the willingness to do that,” Kiss said during the meeting.

“I think where the miscommunication is [is] the governor believes this problem cannot be solved by cutting our way out of it. It’s going to require a combined approach, I’ve heard many of you say that, but also the plans we’ve seen that present that combined approach, we don’t believe solve the problem.”


Credit Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography
West Virginia Legislative Photography
A lawmaker goes over Gov. Tomblin’s budget proposal in detail.

It’s not just the 2017 budget lawmakers are dealing with during this special session though. They are also trying to backfill holes in the current budget year. To do that, Tomblin has presented a bill that pulls one-time dollars from various agency accounts and $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

Lawmakers will return to the Capitol Tuesday to continue their deliberations.

The 45 cent increase to the state’s cigarette tax was read a first time in the Senate Monday, putting it on track for a Wednesday vote. The Senate approved a $1 increase to that tax during the regular session, but it died in a House committee.