By Pamela Pritt
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, as promised and predicted, vetoed the 2017 state budget that took lawmakers three weeks to devise.
Using more than $182 million of the state's Rainy Day Fund -- nearly a quarter of the $774 million fund, reduced by $32 million to balance the 2016 budget.
"Over the past several months, I have presented two balanced budgets and repeatedly met with members of both houses and both parties to detail my plan and listen to alternative solutions to address our current and long-term budget challenges," Tomblin wrote. "The budget bill passed by the Legislature is irresponsible and leaves significant shortfalls in 2018 and 2019 that would further deplete the reserves we've worked so hard to preserve. That's why I have vetoed House Bill 101 in its entirety."
Lawmakers rejected all of Tomblin's efforts to raise revenues, including a 45 cent per pack tax on cigarettes, a telecommunications tax and a 1 percent increase in the sales tax.
Republican lawmakers who ideologically are opposed to any type of tax increase were bolstered by Democrats who believed the per-pack cigarette tax was too low and that they would be tarred with the tax increase brush in this election year unless a majority of Republicans were on the record with yes votes.
Tomblin's $4 billion budget reflected about $300 million in tax cuts, to which the legislature added 2 percent across the board cuts to agencies and 10 percent cuts to constitutional offices. Those offices have already had twin 7.5 percent budget cuts in two consecutive fiscal years and a 4 percent cut last November, which became permanent in the 2017 budget.
Tomblin said in a media release that he "has worked with (his) colleagues in the Senate (to) develop a plan, including a 65 cent tobacco tax, that balances Fiscal Year 2017 without draining a quarter of our state's Rainy Day Fund and while maintaining the critical services on which so many West Virginians rely."
While the governor applauded senators from both parties for coming together, he had stronger words for the House of Delegates, where nearly a quarter of the members have signed a "No New Taxes" pledge.
"At a time when the state is facing such serious budget challenges, I strongly urge the House of Delegates to consider this bipartisan solution without delay to restore the confidence and stability so many of our state employees, residents and businesses deserve," Tomblin wrote.
(c)2016 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)