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House Finance Committee moves out its version of West Virginia budget bill

Delegate John Williams looks over House Bill 4023, the budget bill, during discussion of the bill Thursday. (Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON — A committee of the West Virginia House of Delegates quickly pushed through its version of Gov. Jim Justice’s general revenue budget for the next fiscal year.

The House Finance Committee amended House Bill 4023, the budget bill, and recommended it for passage Thursday afternoon, sending it to the full House for consideration.

HB 4023 was presented to the House the first day of session on behalf of the governor, covering the budget for fiscal year 2023 beginning on July 1. Justice presented a $4.645 billion budget, a 1.4 percent increase from a revised revenue estimate of $4.579 billion for the current fiscal year ending in June and a 3.3 percent increase from the $4.495 billion fiscal year 2022 budget approved by the Legislature last year.

The version of the budget approved Thursday by the House Finance Committee also is $4.645 billion, but it includes changes made by the committee as well as anticipates the passage of some House bills with fiscal costs.

The bill includes $31.6 million in cuts to line items in Justice’s recommended budget. These include a $14 million cut to West Virginia University, an $8 million cut to Marshall University, and a $7 million cut to the Department of Tourism’s brand promotion fund.

These cuts would be offset with alternative sources of funding, such as excess surplus tax dollars at the end of the current fiscal year ending June 30, plus an additional $100,000 to WVU and Marshall.

“I was disappointed when I saw WVU and Marshall were in the back of the budget, but today … we see a $100,000 surplus added to the amount at the back of the budget,” said Delegate John Williams, D-Monongalia. “It seems to be some sort of premium for being in the back of the budget. If we get the money, then there is a little more. That’s an intriguing idea.”

The House budget includes $27.8 million in improvements to the Governor’s budget. Some of the largest of these improvements include $8.9 million to cover additional pay raises aimed at West Virginia State Police troopers, $7 million to cover costs of a foster care reform bill passed by the House and working its way through the Senate, $5.7 million to cover the cost of freezing regional jail per diem fees for the next fiscal year, and $3.6 million for pay raises at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

HB 4023 also takes into account several House bills with costs that have not been taken up by the state Senate as of yet. These include House Bill 4007, reducing personal income tax rates, which would cost $96 million for the first year, $4 million for the re-established film tax credit in House Bill 2096, and $46,000 from eliminating the sales tax for gun safe purchases in House Bill 4616.

The Senate passed its version of the budget, Senate Bill 250, Monday. It’s also a $4.645 billion budget, though it includes its own cuts and improvements. SB 250 is on third reading in the Senate later today, likely becoming the vehicle both bodies will use to hammer out a compromise before the end of the session at midnight Saturday, March 12.

“I hope that in discussions with the Senate and with anything that may be coming from the governor and any bills that may appear at the last minute that some of our issues we might be able to revisit before final passage of the budget,” said House Finance Committee Minority Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.

Year-to-date tax revenue collections for the first eight months of fiscal year 2022 was $3.5 billion, 20.4 percent more than the $2.9 billion revenue estimate, giving the state a $589.9 million surplus with just four months left in the fiscal year. The state’s Rainy Day Fund is also funded with more than $1 billion. By law, half of any surplus at the end of a fiscal year would go into the Rainy Day Fund.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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