Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made no mention of any new state tax issues to lawmakers during his traditional address the first day of the 2014 Legislative Session here last week which suggests he hopes to balance the FY 2014-15 state budget that begins July 1, 2014, with a minimum of new tax proposals.
Legislative leaders still expect to receive some recommended bills from the governor that would involve at least modest tax increases before the 60-day session ends March 8. The first order of business is ending the current fiscal year June 30, 2014 with a balanced budget
The governor implemented a hiring freeze last month and is asking state agencies to cut $33 million from their budgets as state government confronts an $81.5 million hole in the 2014-2015 budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
In his first executive order of 2014 issued Jan. 3, the governor said Secretary Robert Kiss of the Department of Revenue “has projected a potentially significant budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014, unless a minimum of $33 million in spending reduction occurs and additional revenues increase a minimum of $27 million beyond projections.”
Speaking to a joint assembly of the House of Delegates and State Senate in the House chamber, the governor limited the issues in his 50-minute speech to those that don’t involve additional tax revenues.
House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the slim Democratic majority in the 100-member House wants to mostly focus on workforce preparedness and a health and safety commission for the energy industry. Meanwhile Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said the Republican agenda will highlight “spending within the state’s means, ensuring honest elections, protecting inherent rights and defeating the Affordable Care Act.”
Meanwhile, during some of the legislative deliberations that began during three days of pre-session committee meetings the House-Senate Joint Committee on Health indicated it will not recommend a bill this year to legalize medical marijuana. Committee members did recommend legislation to outline so-called Good Samaritan policies that will provide amnesty for individuals seeking medical care in cases of drug overdose.
Del. Clif Moore, D-McDowell, is a member of that committee and he said he supports the bill because it allows people to admit they have an addiction problem and seek help. He said addiction is “frowned on by society. If we take the stigma away from that, (people) can report themselves.”
Despite the committee’s rejection of the bill he introduced last year to legalize medical marijuana, Del. Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said he has revised that proposal and hopes to get it on the legislative agenda this year. He said he has picked up support from some surprising sources like law enforcement and clergy.
“I’ve had more than one sheriff say ‘we see the pill problem; the people who use marijuana don’t seen to be a problem in our county. We’re wasting resources on marijuana when the problem is pills’,” Del. Manypenny said.