No action yet on session, budget
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration failed to reach consensus Tuesday regarding balancing the state's budget for next year or whether to hold a special legislative session.
Tomblin called for an extended session last week to address the budget. It started after the regular legislative session ended late Saturday.
The extended session — which is not the same thing as a special session — is supposed to end today, but the Legislature and administration have made practically no formal progress on any budget decisions.
House and Senate lawmakers met briefly several times throughout the day Tuesday, with Democrats and Republicans from each chamber caucusing as well.
Tomblin chief of staff Charlie Lorensen and state Department of Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss also met with House Democrats Tuesday, said House Finance Committee Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
"I think the governor's got a lot of options on the table. He's not really shared what his preference is at this point," Boggs said Tuesday evening.
"He's done a lot of listening, but I really don't know what his preferences are at this point."
One House bill the Legislature failed to pass in particular is causing some of the concern.
House Bill 4333, also known as the "haircut" bill, initially trimmed 15 percent of state funding for lottery and gambling entities — which affects the dog and horse racing industries — and diverted some of that money away from cities and counties.
That didn't sit well with too many lawmakers, said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.
"It's an election year. These guys didn't want to go home and tell their cities and counties they were getting cut by 15 percent," Prezioso said after the only official joint budget meeting Tuesday morning.
The House eventually reworked the bill to decrease cuts to 10 percent while completely exempting cities and counties from missing out on the associated tax revenue.
The Senate created its own version as well.
The Legislature didn't end up passing the bill, thanks in part to Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and other lawmakers from the Eastern Panhandle.
The bill leaves a chunk of money out of next year's budget proposed by Tomblin.
"Whether you get $39 million or $21 million depending on which version you take, the more important question is the bond rating and the debt coverage," Prezioso said.
The "haircut" bill also, on paper, increased the state's ability to cover potential future debts. It would have allowed the state to proceed with several projects that require bonds. The state may need to put some of the projects on hold without some version of the bill passing, Prezioso said.
Any money that doesn't come from the "haircut" bill provisions would likely come from the state's Rainy Day Fund, Prezioso and Boggs said. Tomblin's budget already proposed taking about $83 million from the roughly $921 million fund, the first time any budget proposal has relied on any money from the fund.
However, lawmakers can discuss only the budget during the extended session. There's a chance the state could balance the budget with more money from the Rainy Day fund and then refill the fund with money from a "haircut" bill passed during a special session, Boggs said.
The Legislature could also adjourn today, go into a special session proclaimed by the governor, create a new budget and "haircut" bill and pass both together, Prezioso said.
"Certainly not the preferable thing because we'd all like to come up with a workable solution sooner rather than later," Boggs said, adding that option could keep lawmakers in Charleston through the weekend without a suspension of rules.
Lawmakers are also considering a pair of additional funding bills that would cover gaps in the current budget. The supplemental bills, including one that takes $12 million from the consumer protection fund of the attorney general, are needed to close a current budget hole expected to top $103 million, Prezioso said.
But, there's no official word yet from Tomblin or the administration as to what's going to happen.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he also wants the governor to allow the Legislature to discuss several other bills not related to the budget during a special session.
One would allow counties with the financial means to give elected officials pay raises. Another deals with whether drilling companies can put certain wastes from horizontal drilling in certain landfills. The final bill Kessler mentioned deals with property values and public school funding.
"I urge the governor to call a special session, and feel it would be imprudent to leave town while these issues, as well as several supplemental bills needed to balance the 2014 budget, remain unresolved," Kessler said in the news release.
The Senate is scheduled to convene at 11 a.m. today, with the House starting again at 3 p.m.