The First Regular Session of the 81st Legislature concluded on April 17th with the passage of House Bill 2014, the Budget Bill. The Conferees of the House and Senate needed just three days in extended session to reach an agreement on a spending plan for Fiscal Year 2014 which begins July 1st of 2013.
The Governor has since reviewed and approved the Budget Bill with no objections marking the first time in recent memory that the Governor has not exercised the power of the line item veto. The fact that there were no objections by the Governor is a testament to the quality of the product, which is a direct result of the good working relationship between the Legislature and the Governor.
Despite economic challenges, the spending plan meets the constitutional requirement whereby appropriations can not exceed projected revenues. The balanced budget does not contemplate any layoffs, furloughs or appropriations from the state’s rainy-day reserve funds. Furthermore it continues to meet all funding requirements to pay down long-term liabilities in our pension systems.
The agreed to budget includes approximately $4.1 billion in general tax revenue appropriations which is nearly $14 million less than the budget adopted just one year ago. It should be noted however, that significant tax reductions have been implemented since the passage of the previous budget including scheduled reductions in Corporate Net and Business Franchise Taxes, and the elimination of the sales tax on food. All these factors point to a rebounding economy.
One of the most notable accomplishments of the adopted budget is the restoration of funds to programs directly affecting our senior citizens. The Governor’s proposed budget included 7.5 percent cuts to most agencies and programs, seniors included. The Legislature was able to make adjustments to the Governor’s proposals in order to free up funds to ensure that essential services to our most vulnerable citizens were protected from cuts.
Other noteworthy funding restorations include domestic violence and sexual assault programs and those that work to protect our children such as the Children’s Trust Fund and Child Advocacy centers. The WVU National Center in Excellence for Women’s Health received partial funding restoration. Tri River Transit Authority received an increase in funding which will allow them the opportunity to receive additional federal funding. The base budget of the West Virginia State Police has been restored after years of being underfunded so that they may not only continue to provide essential services but also grow their ranks by having a cadet class of approximately 50 in the coming year.
Overall budget appropriations contained in the adopted budget, including revenues from all sources, state and federal, total approximately $11.4 billion. This is approximately $150 million, or two percent, less than that of four years ago. This is largely attributable to a decline in federal funds flowing to the states. This is a trend that we must recognize, accept and plan for in future fiscal years. As our leaders in Washington struggle with the federal deficit we can expect that more financial responsibility will be pushed down to the state level.
In summary, we are being asked to do more with less and we have risen to the challenge. The budget for Fiscal Year 2014 is a balanced approach that preserves essential programs, makes cuts where prudent and responsible, keeps us on track to pay off our debts, reduces the tax burden on our citizens and businesses, and favorably positions West Virginia on the road to economic recovery. Many challenges loom on the horizon including the rising cost of health care and the rising federal deficit, but through continued fiscal discipline and the sheer will of the great state of West Virginia we are prepared to meet those challenges head on.
If you have any questions or comments regarding any issues or other pieces of legislation please feel free to contact me here at my Charleston office. To write me, my address is Delegate Harry Keith White, Building 1, Room 460M, State Capitol, Charleston, WV 25305. To reach my by phone please call (304)340-3230 or call Toll free at 1-877-565-3447 and ask to be transferred. I encourage all of my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process.