House passes balanced budget

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates passed out a balanced budget Saturday with a week left in the 2019 legislative session.

House Bill 2020, the governor’s budget bill, passed 92-5 and now heads to the state Senate. It is expected that the Senate will amend its version of the budget, Senate Bill 150, into the House budget next week so both bodies can work on the budget in conference committee.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a balanced budget and it is coming to you in record time,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley.

HB 2020 includes approximately $4.610 billion in expenditures for the fiscal year 2020 general revenue budget, a $28 million increase from fiscal year 2019. Including general revenue and all the various special revenue and lottery accounts, the total budget for fiscal year 2020 is $13.7 billion.

The budget passed Saturday includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, school service personnel and employees of the West Virginia State Police which passed out of the House last week. Pay raises for other public employees paid out of the general revenue is included within the budget itself.

Cuts to the original HB 2020, introduced on behalf of Gov. Jim Justice, total more than $49 million, including: $25 million in cuts to the Jim’s Dream drug rehabilitation and job training program; $15 million from the state Supreme Court from a $10 million spend-down; and $5 million from creating an intermediate appeals court.

The House added more than $39 million in improvements to Justice’s budget, including: $10 million for four-year colleges and universities; $5 million for community and technical colleges; $4.2 million for a new Cybersecurity Office; state Department of Agriculture improvements; and broadband development.

Should the state end the year with more of a budget surplus at the end of June when fiscal year 2019 ends, the House budget provides for half of the surplus be used to fund several items, including $300,000 for state food banks, $6 million for the Division of Tourism, and $15 million for various components of Jim’s Dream.

Amendments made to the budget Saturday also added $200,000 for newborn screening testing, and $125,000 to fund sexual assault intervention and prevention. Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said funding for that was cut in 2012 from $500,000 to $125,000.

“This money actually funds nine programs across the state of West Virginia for both services and counseling for helping women and men who have been sexually assaulted,” Zukoff said. “In 2017, the State of West Virginia spent $35 million to incarcerate folks for sexual assault offenses. This is just a small minuscule amount of money that would be helpful.”

The House and the Senate will need to reconcile any differences on the budget in conference committee, including accounting for bills passed between now and the end of the 60-day legislative session which ends March 9.

For example, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1, creating a last-dollar-in community and technical college program for high school students, graduates, and adult learners. The bill as it passed the Senate had a price tag of more than $7 million. The version passed out of the House Finance Committee on Friday night expanded the bill to in six four-year colleges and universities that have two-year associate degrees, raising the price tag to nearly $10 million.

The Senate version of the budget was on second reading Saturday and will be up for passage Monday.