CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin took the final step Friday in preventing the state of West Virginia from experiencing a shutdown as he signed the state’s budget bill for fiscal year 2017.
Tomblin signed the $4 billion measure while issuing seven line-item vetoes throughout the bill that didn’t prevent it from going into effect on July 1.
Legislators passed the budget on Tuesday, and it included an estimated $98 million in revenue from an increase in the state’s tobacco tax and a $70 million withdrawal from the state’s de facto savings account, the Rainy Day Fund, to close a $270 million budget gap.
In his statement regarding the bill, Tomblin said the state’s budget woes were created by significant declines in coal severance tax revenue and called the 2017 budget “one of the most challenging budgets I have worked on in all my years of service to our state.”
“We have built up a sufficient amount in our Rainy Day Fund that has allowed us to address unanticipated revenue shortfalls of the past two fiscal years, but as one of the creators of the state’s reserve fund, I know it was established for occasional revenue shortfalls, and we must curb the reliance on the fund and continue to move toward a structurally sound budget,” Tomblin said.
The legislature began the special session May 16, and it is estimated to have cost taxpayers a little less than $600,000 at a cost of $35,000 per day.
Funding for the Promise Scholarship and higher education were among those areas that were spared from cuts.
The debate about the budget and the tobacco tax increase led members of both parties to accuse one another for causing the budget stalemate, which all agreed was caused by lower-than-expected revenues in the energy sector, saying one side or the other was averse to new taxes or to making cuts. Legislators also accused one another of putting politics above policy-making five months ahead of the general election.
The legislature passed a budget on June 2 that was vetoed by the governor on June 8. Legislators returned to Charleston on June 11 to restart the budget process that culminated Monday and Tuesday with the budget’s final passage in both chambers.
Among other bills Tomblin signed into law Friday were bills that created the tobacco tax increase, established the $15-million Public Employees Insurance Agency Subsidy Fund, restored funding to the Volunteer Fire Department Workers’ Compensation Premium Subsidy Fund and providing support for the current fiscal year to Boone County Schools.