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Committee OKs amended budget bill

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice might not get all the items on his budget wish list under a version of the budget bill moved by the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday night after both the state Senate and House of Delegates wrapped up Crossover Day.

Now with 10 days left in the 60-day legislative session, attention turned to getting the budget for fiscal year 2021 finished by midnight on Saturday, March 7. The Senate Finance Committee recommended Wednesday afternoon Senate Bill 150, the Budget Bill introduced on behalf of Gov. Justice, to the full Senate.

During his State of the State address Jan. 8, Justice presented the Legislature with a general revenue budget proposal for fiscal year 2021 (starting July 1) of $4.585 billion, a 2.31 percent decrease from the fiscal year 2020 budget that went into effect in July. The Senate Finance Committee’s budget proposal would decrease the Governor’s budget proposal to $4.558 billion – a $27 million decrease from Justice’s proposal.

The Senate Finance budget includes $49 million in cuts. Some of the cuts include: $10.5 million in cuts to the Jobs and Hope substance abuse treatment and job training program; $3 million in cuts to the WV Invests Grant Program, a program created by Senate Bill 1 last year to provide last-dollar-in grants to West Virginians wanting to attend community and technical colleges; a $4 million decrease in tourism funding, and $10 million from the intellectual and development disability waiver program.

Justice had proposed increasing funding by $19.7 million for the I/DD waiver program to end the wait list, which sits at more than 1,000 families. With several I/DD families sitting in the audience, committee members asked why the Senate Finance budget proposal was going back on a promise by the Governor to end the wait list.

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley said that while ending the wait list was a good idea, surrounding states also have I/DD waiver wait lists. Blair said it would be better to only increase the funding by $10 million instead of $19.7 million and monitor the wait list.

“It was a noble idea what the Governor was trying to do, but the fact of the matter is we could do $20 million and it would be base building,” Blair said. “That’s $20 million every year and it eliminates that wait list, but that wait list would re-appear again immediately. If we do $10 million this year on it, we can actually monitor throughout the year and see if the wait list grows even more.”

“So, the Governor’s comments to do away with the wait list and cover it through the Medicaid surplus was just talk,” asked state Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a Democratic candidate for governor. “There’s still a lot of people out there who would benefit from the $19 million.”

Justice’s budget proposal also included $26.4 million split among the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Child Protective Services and social services to help manage the growing foster care crisis in the state; and $150 million for a Medicaid Families First Reserve Fund, which was approved by the Senate Tuesday.

The Senate Finance budget proposal includes $11.5 million in increases for Senate bills passed, including $7.7 million for the Intermediate Court of Appeals, $2.8 million for judicial pay raises, $606,216 for pay raises for magistrates, $400,000 for the Safe Schools program, and $20,000 for tubal litigation. Another $10.9 million funds other improvements to the Governor’s budget.

Several Senate bills would result in estimated decreased tax revenue for fiscal year 2021 totaling $12.4 million. Some of these include incentives for local government consolidation, a high wage tax credit, and double taxation of foreign income. The grand total general revenue budget proposal of $4.558 billion includes $14 million in unappropriated funds.

Earlier Wednesday, the Legislature passed 85 bills in lengthy floor session to keep legislation alive before the end of the 2020 session.

According to the Joint Rules of the Senate and House of Delegates, bills introduced in each body have until the 50th day of the session — known as Crossover Day — to be passed by the respective body and sent to the opposite chamber. This rule doesn’t apply to budget bills or salary and supplemental appropriation bills.

The House started their floor session Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. and wrapped up just short of 4 p.m. passing 34 bills and rejecting one. In a vote of 51-59, the House rejected a bill that would have moved motor vehicle inspections from every year to every two years.

The Senate started at 10 a.m. and wrapped up around the same time, passing 51 bills and rejecting a bill that would have moved the licensing of contractors to a section of code that regulates other types of occupational licensing. The bill died on a 17-17 tie. Another seven bills were sent to the Senate Rules Committee, a procedural move that kills those bills.

Those Senate bills included legislation to create an online voters’ guide, adding further definitions to code regarding pyramid schemes, requiring the mandatory arrest of drug dealers near libraries, a Department of Environment Protection rules bundle, a Fire Commission rule relating to the State Building Code, removing a mandate for the Board of Risk and Insurance Management purchase liability insurance for Division of Corrections, and providing a 12-month window to allow members of State Teachers Retirement System purchase qualified military service credits.

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