Ashton Marra Published

When Services Disappear, Will Senate Reconsider Tax Hikes?


DMAPS, the shorthand for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, is an area of the budget that, according to Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall, can be difficult to cut. At $350 million, it’s a fairly sizable part of state government and houses the regional jails, prisons, homeland security office, State Police, and a few other divisions.

During the department’s budget presentation Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice’s newly appointed Secretary Jeff Sandy told senators he’s only officially been in his position for just over a month, but he’s already looking to make changes that will result in savings.

“It did not take me very long to realize some of the issues within DMAPs,” Sandy said, “and that is duplication of efforts.”

Sandy reported the agency is already combining some services- including financial and legal- to share personnel across agencies within the department.

Each of those agency heads presented their individual line items to senators Thursday  and even in a tight budget year, several asked for increases in their funding.

Jan Cahill, Superintendent of the State Police, told lawmakers that with the restoration of a previous $1.3 million cut, he planned to hire more technicians to help reduce the backlog in the state Police’s forensic lab, but he chose the new lab personnel over paying for a new State Police cadet class because of the lack of funds.

Several members of the committee didn’t like the either or choice in the State Police line item, including Sen. John Unger from Berkeley County, who questioned Cahill about an issue plaguing his district, and most districts: substance abuse.

“It is absolutely no exaggeration at all for us to say that 90-plus percent, probably 95 percent, [of crime] has a drug link,” Cahill said. “If you connect the dots enough, you can go back and find a drug link on just about everything we do.”

“We are being penny wise and dollar stupid here,” Sen. Doug Facemire of Braxton County said during the meeting.

Facemire said lawmakers are going to have to make budgetary choices based on priorities and the State Police should be one of them.

“What that means is the crimes and things that aren’t drug related; you don’t have time to fool with them,” he said to Cahill. “I mean, we owe our citizens more than this.”


Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Sen. Mike Hall on the chamber floor.

Senate Finance Chair Mike Hall recognizes that the Legislature will have to make tough budgetary decisions this session, and so far, legislative leaders in both chambers say those decisions will come in the form of cuts.

But Hall is working hard to make sure his committee understands the real-world outcomes of those cuts.

“If you’re going to talk about reducing the size of government, that you actually look at government in total to decide where you want to go,” he said, “or decide maybe that it’s pretty hard to do.”

That’s why Hall has divided his committee into workgroups who are looking at each section of the budget before the agency’s present their funding plans.

That knowledge allows his fellow Senators to ask more pointed questions of the departments, but also get them through the budget process more quickly.

Hall said this session, he wants to have a spending plan prepared as close to the halfway mark as possible.

“We’ve only got 60 days, so we’ve got to build some baseline understanding of the expenditures,” he said. “Then, in the second part of this session, decide if revenue is going to be there or not be there, what to do next.”

That new revenue isn’t necessarily off the table, according to Hall, despite leaderships’ push to cut instead of increase taxes. To Hall, it’s about protecting necessary public services and he believes his fellow Senators are starting to come to the same understanding.

“I’m hearing members say things like, if I can be convinced that there’s not much waste or that we really need to do these things, then they would look at revenue measures,” he said.