CHARLESTON - West Virginia's budget is expected to be especially tight this coming year as state legislators prepare to go back into session in a few weeks.
The West Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate are scheduled to begin the 2014 regular session on Jan. 8 at the State Capitol in Charleston.
The state budget is expected to take a lot of work, said Del. Bill Anderson, R-Wood, who is the minority leader in the House Finance Committee.
Last year, state agencies had to cut spending by around 7.5 percent across the board. Anderson believes this year things will have to be tighter which may require looking at specific agencies and cuts that may need to be made.
Tax revenues will be around $42 million below expectations, Anderson said. Severance tax from natural resources are down and coal taxes are down.
"It is going to be a great struggle to put together a budget this year," he said. "This one will probably the worst of the lot."
* 1st Day - Jan. 8: First day of session.
* 20th Day - Jan. 27: Submission of Legislative Rule-Making Review bills due.
* 41st Day - Feb. 17: Last day to introduce bills in the Senate and the House. (Senate Rule 14), (House Rule 91a) Does not apply to originating or supplementary appropriation bills. Does not apply to Senate or House resolutions or concurrent resolutions.
* 47th Day - Feb. 23: Bills due out of committees in house of origin to ensure three full days for readings.
* 50th Day - Feb. 26: Last day to consider bill on third reading in house of origin. Does not include budget or supplementary appropriation bills.
* 60th Day - March 8: Adjournment at midnight.
* The state budget, road conditions/maintenance, college costs, making pseudoephedrine available only with a prescription and educational standards are some of the issues local lawmakers expect to work on during the upcoming 2014 session of the West Virginia Legislature.
* The West Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate are scheduled to begin the 2014 regular session on Jan. 8 at the State Capitol in Charleston.
Del. Dan Poling, D-Wood, said coal exports are down and the personal income tax revenues are down.
"We need to look at why that is down," he said. "With those revenues down, it is going to be hard keeping the budget balanced."
Anderson is also concerned about what kind of impact a tighter state budget will have on state colleges and universities. If the colleges have to cut money, they sometimes have to make it up with higher tuition.
"With budget cuts, it usually forces a college's board of governors to increase tuition," Anderson said, which can have a negative impact on many students and families trying to pay for an education.
"We need to study a way to provide some relief for these kids," Anderson said. "It pains me to see the amount of debt some of these kids have coming out of college."
Many colleges will probably have to look at ways to save money on their operations.
"It is important we provide higher education with all the bang for the buck we can," Anderson said.
Other issues lawmakers plan to address include: prison overcrowding; moving the jurisdiction of deer farms from the Division of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture; wage data collection so it more accurately reflects what employers are paying workers across the board; and others.
Another issue lawmakers will have to deal with will be the state roadways, Poling said.
Over a year ago, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin put together the West Virginia Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways. The group was tasked with studying the condition and needs of the state's transportation system and developing a long-term strategic plan of action. The commission's plan would include funding options for the maintenance, construction and expansion of the state's roadway system.
Lawmakers were not happy with some of the early recommendations from the commission.
"I wasn't happy with their findings," Poling said. "I did not see a consensus on how to fix it."
A lot of roads in the state will see increased use from operations in the development of the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit. Poling said something needs to be developed where the users pay for the maintenance on those roads, not just the citizens.
"We need to keep the highways working," he said.
The fight to make pseudoephedrine - a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine - available only by prescription is expected to heat up again. For the last couple of years similar bills were worked on, but were either defeated or did not go anywhere.
Over the last few weeks, Del. Tom Azinger, R-Wood, has been speaking around the area trying to build support for such a measure.
Meth is manufactured illicitly from PSE, a chemical found in some cold medicines. These medications are kept behind the counter at many pharmacies with sales limits imposed and people having to show a valid driver's license to be able to purchase them.
A database system is in place to track those purchases so pharmacies know if someone has purchased those medications elsewhere in the area.
Supporters feel limiting the drug's availability will cut down on meth production. Opponents of the measure said getting a prescription would require a doctor's office visit, having to pay for that visit and more.
Poling said he is not sure about the effectiveness of the database in being able to track meth manufacturers.
"A prescription can stop it," he said.
Lawmakers will have to weight the good and bad on this measure and what the value is for public safety, Poling added.
State Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said it is a burden for many people to pay for additional doctor's office visits just to get cold medicine.
"You are punishing 99 percent of the people for what one percent of criminals are doing," she said.
Boley expects the issue of state rights to come up during the upcoming session with overreach from the federal government on issues such as health care, education and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Boley also wants to do something with Common Core State Standards in education, a system that Boley said was created by a few people nationwide with ties to the federal government and not by teachers in the state as originally presented.
She has a number of issues with the standards themselves, student assessments, data collection on students and the cost of the system to the taxpayer. The standards were also never voted on by the state's elected officials.
"The federal government should not be running our education system here in West Virginia," Boley said. "We have plenty of well qualified teachers and educators here in West Virginia that should be able to write our standards."