W.Va. Special Session On Hold Yet Again; Budget Bill Not Ready
WHEELING — The first day of a reconvened special session of the West Virginia Legislature Monday was anything but special as lawmakers again had no bills to consider when they sat down at their desks to discuss next year’s budget.
Both the Senate and the House adjourned until 11 a.m. today.
Also on Monday, Gov. Jim Justice sent out a memo to his cabinet secretaries advising them to have a plan in place if a budget agreement isn’t in place by July 1 and there is a state government shutdown.
“As we continue to work toward a budget, I have become concerned we may not have a budget on a timely basis to maintain the orderly flow of state services and activities,” Justice states in the memo. “Although the budget year ends June 30, 2017, as a practical matter, we need the budget by June 19, 2017 to make the necessary accounting and system adjustments to start a new budget year on July 1, 2017. In an abundance of caution, you need to start developing a contingency plan for all your agencies as to how to proceed should the budget not be in place to be effective on July 1, 2017.”
He acknowledged in the memo many agencies already have contingency plans in place after facing similar concerns last year that a budget would be late.
“Your planning must identify essential and non-essential services,” Justice said. “Some are clear. For example, corrections and the the appropriate housing of inmates are essential. There are, however, other services that are less clear and those need to be examined closely.”
Justice directed the agencies to have their contingency plans ready by May 30.
On Monday, Justice added to the call for the special session two additional pieces of legislation.
The first is a bill to protect state employee benefits should the government have to furlough them when the new fiscal year starts July 1, while the second would be an increase in the privilege tax for automobiles.
Already on the call were four measures relating to budget discussions:
∫ Senate Bill 1001 would raise the salary for classroom teachers by 2 percent.
∫ SB 1002 would increase motor vehicle licensing fees and the motor fuel excise tax .
∫ SB 1003 directs the West Virginia Parkways Authority to study, investigate and later implement a program that would charge all West Virginia licensed drivers a flat fee to drive on the West Virginia Turnpike.
∫ SB 1004 relates generally to taxation, and includes provisions to raise the state sales tax while lowering income tax rates.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, told Senate members a technical issue was the reason lawmakers had no legislation to consider Monday. The bills had been delivered to Legislative Services by Justice’s staff, but bill drafters found the measures they received “were not in a format to which they were accustomed,” according to Trump. He expected the bills to be ready today.
The Legislative Services website contains a manual for bill drafting, as well as a template for crafting legislation.
Legislation also was not ready when lawmakers first convened for the special session on May 4. The following day, the Senate approved SB 1004 — the revenue bill — and referred the other the bills to committee.
The House refused to take up any of the bills, or even assign them to committee. The stalemate led to the 10-day break in the session.
Each day legislators are at their desks during a special session costs taxpayers about $35,000.
“I don’t know why we’re down here squandering money,” said Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock.
“There is no budget bill on the call, and that is what has some people concerned.
“You would think if we were dealing with the budget — and that’s the purpose of the session — you would have a budget bill.”
Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, was not present in the Senate Monday. He did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday evening.
Senate Director of Communications Jacque Bland said Maroney, who is a physician, has been pressed with attending to patients’ needs, and that he is “ready to come to Charleston when we’re ready to vote.”
“Seeing that nothing transpired today, it probably was more prudent for him to see his patients,” she said of Dr. Maroney.