Charleston, WV - Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) and House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) said that, as a result of Republican Legislative Leadership squandering the 60-day legislative session and not prioritizing the budget, lawmakers were sent home yesterday without a budget.
“Our economy is facing tremendous challenges, and the Republican leadership, busy with their war on working families, let the budget languish during the session,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler stated. “Every member of the Legislature was aware of the budget crisis that the State of West Virginia was facing this year long before we set foot in the Capitol in January- yet, the Republican leadership failed to make our state’s budget crisis a priority this session,” he added.
“Instead of dedicating time to debating and crafting the budget bill- the one piece of legislation that the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass each year, Republicans spent hours and hours on social and special interests legislation, including, ironically enough, a resolution to require the federal government to have a balanced budget,” House Minority Leader Tim Miley stated. “These days could and should have been spent creating a balanced, structurally sound budget that includes a full fix to PEIA and much needed monies for our state’s roads,” Delegate Miley continued.
“Republican leaders have stated again and again ‘trust us, we have a plan’- however, the budget proposals presented by both the House and the Senate were not balanced or structurally sound and certainly did not fully fund PEIA. I can’t imagine the anxiety being felt by those families that may be asked to pay significantly more for PEIA coverage who are now in a state of limbo and uncertain as to how they will make ends meet in their family’s budget. It is also irresponsible to put our teachers, state troopers and so many others in the horrible position of not knowing what is going to happen to their jobs,” Miley stated.
The House budget proposal was deficient by around $80 million due to the failure of two last minute supplemental appropriations the House tried to push through the last week of session. The Senate budget contained $139 million in revenue from tobacco tax and other revenue measures that failed during the regular session. The Minority Leaders, echoing sentiments expressed by Democrats in both chambers, described the budgets as “fictional”.
To date, Republicans have not presented a plan that fully funds PEIA. The House version of the budget includes 12% premium hikes for retirees and active employees and several million dollars in benefit cuts. “The solutions offered by the Republican legislative leadership have been increased PEIA premiums, corporate tax breaks and cutting funding to education and programs that will give West Virginia any hope of rebounding from this economic crisis,” Kessler stated.
The Legislature could have agreed to a budget under the projections delivered by Governor Tomblin during his State of the State address and adjusted those numbers as needed through supplemental appropriations measures throughout the year. However, instead of trying to address this additional gap, Republican leadership has given up and left it to Governor Tomblin to call a special session. “Taxpayers have spent $100,000 for three days of extended session to finalize the budget when Republican leadership was not even close to having a budget prepared,” Leader Kessler stated. “Republican leadership wants to blame Governor Tomblin, but we have had 63 days to address the budget crisis and Republicans did not get the job done,” he added.
“Democrats have been asking for the plan to fully fund PEIA since the first day of this legislative session, yet no plan was forthcoming until we approached the 60th day,” Leader Miley stated. “Even then the plan produced by the Republican leadership was to cause retirees and others to incur a 12% increase in their PEIA premiums,” Miley said. “Democratic legislators are willing to work, as we have pledged from day one, in a bipartisan manner to create a balanced, structurally sound budget that fully restores the cuts to PEIA, dedicates much needed funding to our roads and helps West Virginians get back to work.”
“Time is of the essence and it is irresponsible to leave our public employees in a state of limbo any longer. We need to get to work on this as soon as possible,” Kessler stated.