CHARLESTON — With passage of the West Virginia House of Delegates’ version of the 2021-22 state spending plan on an 83-14 vote Friday, delegates urged House leaders to defend the bill against the Senate’s version of the budget bill, which makes even more severe spending cuts.
Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he supports House Bill 2022, which cuts some $82 million out of Gov. Jim Justice’s $4.56 billion general revenue budget, but backfills about $63 million of those cuts using what is expected to be more than $200 million of surplus funds from the 2020-21 budget year.
“I’m concerned about what’s across the hallway, and when we get the final version, my opinion may change,” he said.
The Senate version of the budget (Senate Bill 125) cuts about $79 million out of the Justice budget, but uses about $34 million of surplus to fill some of the general revenue cuts.
A key difference in the two bills is in spending cuts to West Virginia University and Marshall University.
The House bill cuts general revenue funding to WVU by $18 million and Marshall by $10 million, but fills those cuts with equal amounts of surplus funds. The Senate plan cuts WVU by $12 million and Marshall by $6 million, but does not use surplus revenue to restore those spending cuts.
On Friday, the House rejected on a 77-20 vote an amendment by Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and 12 Democratic delegates to fully restore funding to WVU and Marshall in the base budget.
“This sends exactly the wrong message to the rest of the country and the rest of the world,” Doyle said of the budget cut. “This says clearly West Virginia does not care about higher education.”
Proponents of the cut assured Doyle that there will be more than enough 2020-21 budget surplus to cover all the budget appropriations to be funded with surplus dollars. Through March, the state budget surplus totaled about $235 million.
House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, also noted that, between the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act, WVU is receiving about $50 million in federal pandemic stimulus funds, while Marshall is receiving about $23 million.
The amendment was one of four offered by Democratic delegates that were rejected by the House. Those included:
- $3.1 million to restore a cut to the Jobs and Hope drug rehabilitation/job training program. Householder argued that the funding is not needed in the coming budget year since the program will carry over up to $4.8 million unspent in the current budget year.
- $2.48 million to increase funding to public health departments. Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said that would restore funding that was cut in 2016.
“It would be the honorable thing to do to put these people who have worked so hard for us back to where they were in 2016,” she said.
- $190,000 for the Minority Health Institute at the Marshall School of Medicine, established to address racial and ethnic health care disparities in the state.
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said the institute benefits all who face barriers to obtaining access to health care.
“It’s about far more than minorities. It’s about all of us,” he said.
An amendment by Dels. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, and Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, to strike the sections of the budget bill to provide the $28 million of surplus funds to WVU and Marshall to make the schools whole was not taken up in the House on Friday.
The House’s $4.492 billion budget plan goes to the Senate, where the Senate’s budget bill will be on amendment stage in the Senate on Monday, April 5.
Both bills are cutting state spending in anticipation of passage of some variation of House and Senate proposals to phase out state personal income taxes, which account for about $2.1 billion of general revenue funding annually.
The House budget anticipates that the House’s version of the income tax cut will reduce tax revenue by about $75 million in the 2021-22 budget year, while the Senate is proposing a more aggressive phaseout plan that calls for cutting $1.09 billion in income taxes in the first year, to be partially recouped with more than $900 million in sales tax and other tax hikes.