Tomblin Vetoes $67M in Budget

CHARLESTON (AP) – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a budget into law this week that dips into millions of dollars in state reserves but gives public employees raises.

Before approving the budget plan, the Democrat governor vetoed about $67 million to limit how much the state dips into its savings. Senior services, local economic development and other programs will see some funding scaled back but not deleted.

“Some of these reductions curb grants and services and, while they are difficult, they are necessary to responsibly manage future year budgets, without raising taxes,” Tomblin wrote in his veto letter.

Also, on Thursday, the governor signed a key piece of legislation from the session, Sen. Jeff Kessler’s Future Fund bill, and also inked the tourism tax credits that will, among other things, bring the New Orleans Saints to The Greenbrier Resort for training camp.

With the budget, the proposal that lawmakers passed last week would have taken $147.5 million from the state’s $922 million Rainy Day fund.

Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said another bill cutting horse- and dog-track subsidies, and other areas, could keep another $21 million in the Rainy Day fund. That proposal awaits the governor’s signature.

Tomblin raised concerns that the state’s bond ratings could suffer if it draws that much from savings. Instead, he reduced next year’s dip into reserves to $100 million.

The 2015 fiscal year will be the first where the state patches its budget with the Rainy Day money. Tomblin expects the state to keep drawing more reserves to balance its budget through 2018.

New tax dollars weren’t a possibility, because House lawmakers opposed bringing in more money by raising cigarette, sales and other taxes. Each of the House’s 100 members is up for re-election, and Democrats are clinging to a six-seat edge over Republicans.

The budget includes $504 raises for public employees. It also accounts for $1,000 across-the-board raises for teachers and 2 percent raises for school service personnel, which were included in a separate bill.

With the Future Fund bill signed, Kessler said that work remains to be done.

“Next we need to get to work on the constitutional amendment, and then start putting some money away,” he said.

The biggest fanfare of the day came when Saints head coach Sean Payton paraded into the governor’s parlor as a trumpeter blared, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” to tout The Greenbrier as the team’s new training camp home.

Sporting a diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring, Payton praised the move that will keep the Saints training at The Greenbrier at least through 2016.

Payton said West Virginia offers a cooler climate, as the team splits training camp with Metairie, La.

Payton appeared after Tomblin signed a tourism bill with tax breaks for The Greenbrier’s training camp, its new medical facility and other statewide projects. Jim Justice, The Greenbrier’s owner, is pouring $20 million to $25 million into new training grounds that he expects to be ready for Saints camp in July.

“I think, more than anything else, it’s a chance for us to go outside just of our region and make an impression on a state like West Virginia, especially a state that doesn’t have an NFL team,” Payton said.

Though widely separated on a map, the Saints have looked at The Greenbrier for years. Payton said the team’s executive vice-president/general manager, Mickey Loomis, first looked at The Greenbrier about three years ago. Talks with owner Jim Justice stirred up again about six months ago, and Payton said he started talking with Justice every other day.

Payton also caddied for pro golfer Ryan Palmer at the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic at the resort last July.

Justice said two natural grass practice fields and one synthetic field are being built at the resort, in addition to a 55,000-square-foot building with kitchen and dining facilities, meeting rooms, weight and locker rooms, training and physical therapy accommodations.

The tourism bill would offer a break on some new sales tax from Saints camp.

Justice has estimated the Saints would train at the resort from July 18 to Aug. 16. Admission will be free.