CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to pass a balanced budget that controls government spending, yet prevents drastic cuts to higher education and medical services for low-income West Virginians.
“The House budget does not increase taxes, lives within our means, and prioritizes spending in ways that prevent severe cuts to our higher education institutions and the medical services that aid our most vulnerable residents,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
The House Wednesday afternoon voted in a bipartisan fashion to amend its own version of the budget into Senate Bill 1013. This budget spends $4.225 billion, roughly $85 million less than current fiscal year spending and in-line with current revenue estimates, without changes to the tax code.
Delegates approved the amended budget bill on a 69-30 vote.
The House’s version of the budget avoids more drastic cuts to higher education than were in the Senate’s original version. The Senate’s budget featured an additional 11-percent cut to most higher education institutions across the state, with a total 15-percent cut for West Virginia and Marshall universities.
“These dramatic higher education cuts would have led to significant hikes in tuition costs for West Virginia students and families,” said House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan. “The House’s changes protect our students and their families from being hit with these unreasonable increases.”
The original Senate plan would have also cut the state’s Medicaid program by $34 million, which would equate to a nearly $130 million reduction in funding when federal matching dollars are factored in.
“These Senate cuts jeopardize the healthcare programs that serve roughly one-third of our citizens and affect payments to our doctors and health facilities,” said Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “The House budget prioritizes spending by using surplus transfers and other cash on hand to avoid many of the sharp cuts to Medicaid contained in the Senate version of the budget.”
House leaders urged the Senate and Governor to accept the budget to prevent a government shutdown on July 1.
“We have put many options on the table since the regular session began in February, but in the end, none of those options have crossed the finish line,” said Speaker Armstead. “This budget prevents a government shutdown and eases our citizens’ concerns. It preserves our vital services, funds the programs upon which our citizens rely most and controls government spending. It does not increase taxes on our citizens.”
The House changes to the budget must first be approved by the Senate before it can go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.
“While the Governor and Senate Republicans might have preferred other ways to balance this budget, those proposals did not have the support of the majority of the Legislature,” Speaker Armstead said. “I strongly – strongly – urge the Senate and Governor to approve this budget so we can ease our citizens’ fears, ensure government services continue without interruption, and avoid layoffs or furloughs of our state employees.”
Should the Senate accept the House’s changes, it will be the second balanced budget plan approved by lawmakers this year. The first budget bill passed by the Legislature during the regular session was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice.