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Full WV Legislature passes budget bill

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The West Virginia Legislature passed Senate Bill 306, the budget bill, Friday March 14 after an extended budget session.

The bill passed the West Virginia House of Delegates by a vote of 77-18 and the Senate 25-9.

Click HERE to read the bill.

 "This spending plan for state government contains critical funding for education, in-home care for seniors and more state troopers to investigate crimes against children, among many other important initiatives," House Speaker Tim Miley said. "In a very tight budget year, we have succeeded in striking a balance between fiscal conservatism and ensuring the state continues to provide meaningful services to our taxpayers."

In explaining the $4.2 billion general revenue budget to House members, Finance Chairman Brent Boggs said it includes $5 million for in-home care assistance; $13 million placed back into state Road Fund for paving and maintenance; an additional $1.5 million for the Safe Drinking Water Program; $3 million for community based substance abuse treatment; and $1 million to hire additional State Police to staff the Crimes Against Children Unit. There is also added funding for numerous social service programs, including domestic violence programs, the Children's Trust Fund and pill mill investigations.    

"We worked closely with the Senate and the Governor, and I am proud of the final product," Boggs said.

House Majority Leader Harry Keith White said legislators are rightfully cautious about tapping into the state's Rainy Day Fund, but noted with a balance of more than $900 million, the fund exceeds the amount bond rating agencies recommend.

"The state has experienced an unexpected drop in revenue and was facing severe cuts. One of the reasons the Rainy Day Fund was created was in anticipation of this kind of situation," White, a former House Finance chair, said. "With the promise of a new cracker facility and continually increasing developments in Marcellus Shale, we expect revenue to increase down the road.

"By appropriating a fraction of the Rainy Day Fund, we have prevented drastic cuts to the budget that would have negatively affected government services."

According to Finance chairman Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin estimated a $120 million shortfall in the 2015 fiscal year state budget.

He said nonexempt state agencies took a 7.5 percent reduction in funding for the second year in a row. For the first time in history, the governor recommended dipping into the state's Rainy Day Fund to the tune of $83,835,248 million. The money would go to Medicaid to balance this fiscal year's budget, Prezioso added.

The final amount taken from the Rainy Day Fund to balance the 2015 budget is $147 million, a $63 million difference from what Tomblin originally estimated.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he was in opposition of the state budget, citing the state Division of Labor prevailing wage rates that establishes a uniform rate for all workmen on building, highway and heavy construction projects receive.  

"There's an opportunity in this state to get it right," Blair said. "We spend millions and millions and millions of dollars a year in prevailing wages.

"This doesn't effect our budget and how we spend money in the state – it effects every municipality, it effects every county, it effects every school board."

Blair said legislators have an obligation to the taxpayers to get the prevailing wage right, and for that reason he voted against the state's budget.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said Tomblin is expected to call on an "extraordinary" special session to take up several bills that were not passed during the regular session.

Click HERE to read about Tomblin's call for a special session, which includes several funding appropriations bills.

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, spoke against the budget bill's passage, saying taking money out of the Rainy Day Fund would be a step backward financially.

Armstead compared the Rainy Day Fund to a savings account, and said that like a personal savings account, taking extra money out to cover regular living expenses isn't the best cause of action.
He also expressed concern that taking money from the Rainy Day Fund would negatively affect the state's bond rating.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, and Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, both spoke in favor of the bill's passage, saying the Rainy Day Fund was created to cover unexpected expenses during lean fiscal years.

Delegate Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, said if anyone voted for the teacher pay raise, which came out of the Rainy Day Fund, they also should vote for the budget bill.

Those in favor of the bill's passage said as long as it's done in a fiscally responsible way, taking money out of the Rainy Day Fund will still enable the fund to grow in the long run. 

The budget also restores and increases a safe drinking water program to help offset the passage of Senate Bill 373, the water bill, as well as provides funding to water issues across state, children's trust fund, and in-home family education.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's office gave an additional $8 million, leaving the office receiving $5 million, from appropriations they were supposed to receive to go towards the Title XIX Waiver for senior citizens that would allow them to receive in-home care, the total amount they will be given is $19.4 million.

Other funding restored to the budget bill included $150,464 to the Family Resource Networks and Family Resource Centers, $250,000 to in-home Family Education programs, $80,000 to the West Virginia Children's Trust Fund for grants to go towards preventing child abuse, $357,900 to the domestic violence prevention, $111,908 for the Child Advocacy Centers including an additional $200,000 keeping funding level for local programs due to rapid growth and expansion and $2 million for the West Virginia State Police. The state police's Crimes Against Children Unit was also given an additional $2 million.