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W.Va. House amends its budget in Senate bill | News, Sports, Jobs

Steven Allen Adams DETAILS — House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder reads through the details of the budget bill to House members Tuesday.

CHARLESTON — As the 2022 legislative session grinds to a close, the West Virginia House of Delegates sent its version of the general revenue budget for the next fiscal year to the state Senate wrapped in the Senate’s version of the budget bill.

The House passed Senate Bill 250, the budget bill, in a 93-2 vote Tuesday afternoon, sending it back to the Senate. Only delegates Shannon Kimes, R-Wood, and Chris Pritt, R-Kanawha, voted against the bill.

House members voted Tuesday to amend the contents of its budget bill, House Bill 4023, into SB 250. While the budget bill submitted by Gov. Jim Justice and the House and Senate versions of the budget share the same general revenue fund total of $4.645 billion, SB 250 as amended by the House is different from the original Senate bill, requiring both sides to come to a compromise by midnight Saturday, when the annual session comes to close.

The House version of SB 250 includes $31.6 million in cuts to line items in Justice’s recommended budget presented to the Legislature on the first day of session on Jan. 12.

The cuts would be offset at the end of the current fiscal year ending June 30 with any available surplus tax collections. The budget surplus for the first eight months of the fiscal year is nearly $590 million as of the end of February.

“It is the intent and mandate of the Legislature that the following items be paid from the surplus,” explained House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. “If surplus funds are available as of the date mandated to meet the appropriation in the section, they shall be allocated first to provide the necessary funds to meet the first appropriation … and each appropriation listed.”

The House budget includes $27.8 million in improvements to the Governor’s budget. Some of the largest of these improvements include: $8.9 million to cover additional pay raises aimed at West Virginia State Police in Senate Bill 531 passed by the House Monday.

Another $7 million would cover costs of a foster care reform bill – House Bill 4344 – passed by the House last week and awaiting action by the Senate Finance Committee; $5.7 million to cover the cost of freezing regional jail per diem fees for the next fiscal year, and $3.6 million for pay raises at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

SB 250 also takes in House Bill 4007, which would reduce personal income tax rates, which would cost $96 million for the first year and take $265 million in surplus dollars at the end of the fiscal year to create the Stabilization and Future Economic Reform Fund to help cushion against tax revenue fluctuations in future fiscal years.

The House budget bill also included $4 million for the re-established film tax credit in House Bill 2096, and $46,000 from eliminating the sales tax for gun safe purchases in House Bill 4616.

The Democratic minority attempted to amend the bill to increase funding for guardian ad litems who represent children in neglect and abuse cases, child care development funding for the Department of Health and Human Resources, The House’s capital improvements fund to pay for video live streaming of committee meetings, and to offer a one-time $1,000 stipend for state employee retirees. All these amendments failed.

Despite the failure of the minority’s amendments, praise for the budget bill was bipartisan.

“I think the finance chairman and the finance committee should be commended,” said Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer. “They have done what the governor asked and have submitted before you today a relatively flat budget. They have found a way to take the improvements that we have passed through legislation and make certain that the items in that flat budget still got funded in the back of the budget.”

“I too want to say this is good work,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “This will be the second or third year in a row we have not cut higher education. Senior services in this budget are funded. The Humanities Council is funded. There are different arts organizations that are funded this year. We don’t have cuts in a lot of programs.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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