As the extended session is set to resume on Monday, May 15, I think it’s important for us to understand what’s at stake for the citizens of our state. The budget that passed both chambers on the final evening of the regular session contained no increases in revenue, and was ultimately vetoed by Governor Justice. That budget essentially continued the “across the board” cuts to every state agency, which meant no significant funding for our crumbling roads and bridges, no teacher pay raises, and costs the state approximately $80 million per year by extending the state teachers retirement funding plan from 17 to 30 years. There was no funding to address our continuing drug crisis, and cuts to the seniors “Aged and Disabled” waiver of $3.5 million, DHHR by $3.35 million, state police and division of corrections by a combined $8.6 million, every higher education institution including Marshall University and West Virginia University by 8-10 percent each, and most notably, cuts to Medicaid of over $200 million, hurting our most vulnerable citizens and our health care workforce. Along with all of these drastic cuts, the budget also required another $90 million raid from the state “Rainy Day” fund, signifying that it truly was not a balanced budget. This $90 million cut to Rainy Day would have most likely caused another drop in the state’s bond rating, costing us more over time in increased interest. If implemented, that budget creates a $406 million shortfall for fiscal year 2019 and an estimated $603 million hole by fiscal year 2022.
Governor Justice has proposed a budget that attempts to address most of the issues above. The proposal would raise $2.4 billion by bonding the revenue generated from increasing the DMV fees to a level comparable with our surrounding states, and a 4.5 cent increase in the gas tax. Additionally, anyone interested could purchase an EZ Pass from DMV to travel any current or future toll road in West Virginia for $8 per year. The funds generated would create up to 48,000 jobs repairing our roads, bridges, and possibly schools. The proposal designates $120 million for drug treatment, allows for a 2 percent increase in teacher pay while looking at increases to other state employees in the future. With the support of the largest coal producer in the state, it allows for an increase in coal severance tax while coal prices are up, and a floor for severance when prices drop. The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has agreed to minor increases in business taxes to help carry their portion of the weight. The proposal re-instates funding to all levels of education, state police and division of corrections, fully funds Medicaid and our senior services, and leaves the Rainy Day fund untouched.
While there is still a lot of work ahead, the senate passed a version last Friday that should have been a starting point for the House of Delegates to work on. Unfortunately, the house leadership decided to reject the bill without allowing any discussion or debate. Hopefully when we return on Monday, the House of Delegates leadership will take a more responsible approach and allow members an opportunity to work on a budget that moves our state forward and protects the interests of our citizens.
You can follow the legislature by clicking on the “Bill Status” tab on the legislative website: www.wvlegis.state.wv.us , where you can also find a link to live broadcasts of committee meetings and floor sessions. As your representative, I’d welcome your thoughts and input on how you think we should move forward. My office number is 304-340-3146, and my email is [email protected]
Thank you for your trust and support,
Delegate Scott Brewer
Scott Brewer (D-New Haven) represents the 13th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.