CHARLESTON, W.Va. – House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, today reiterated the Legislature’s commitment to funding the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 budget currently being negotiated.
Administration officials Wednesday morning informed legislative leadership that the PEIA Finance Board would meet next week and move to re-implement the $120 million in “draconian” cuts for the coming year since a budget for the next fiscal year has yet to be signed.
“I’m troubled by the administration’s decision to potentially allow the PEIA Finance Board to take this unnecessary step,” Speaker Armstead said. “The House and Senate leadership have repeatedly committed to fully funding our state employees’ health insurance program for the coming year. That commitment was reflected in the budgets passed by each chamber this past session – both of which fully funded PEIA – and would have been reflected in the compromise budget we had hoped to pass last week, had the administration not changed our revenue projections at the last minute.”
“It’s just unfortunate that PEIA is once again being used as a political football for the sole purpose of gaining leverage in the budget process,” Senate President Cole said. “At this time of fiscal crisis, we need to have a serious debate about how much government we want and how much we want to tax our people for it. Using scare tactics about people’s health insurance is not the way to accomplish that.”
“It’s astonishing that the administration says that it submitted a ‘structurally sound, fiscally responsible budget’ at the beginning of the year,” Speaker Armstead said. “The Governor’s budget was not balanced and did not rely on existing revenue sources. Instead, it relied on nearly $150 million in new taxes – something that is difficult to expect our citizens to absorb when our economy is faltering, and measures he couldn’t even convince members of his own party to support. Democrats in the House balked at his telecommunications tax, refused to support his 45-cent tobacco tax increase, and yet, despite their rhetoric, only one Democrat in the House supported our budget that fully funded PEIA.”
“We are working with the Governor and his administration on a responsible budget plan, and remain committed to fully funding our PEIA program as part of that budget,” Senate President Cole said. “As we said last week, we stand ready to call ourselves back into session should critical programs like PEIA be in jeopardy for the coming year.”
“Fortunately, this morning the Governor’s Office assured us that as long as there is a budget in place by June 30 – and we intend to have one long before that point – then we will avert these ‘draconian’ cuts to PEIA,” Speaker Armstead said. “We are committed to working together quickly to pass a budget that does not put additional undue burdens on our working families.”
“From the beginning, we approached this fiscal crisis by putting a variety of measures on the table; some gained traction, some did not,” Senate President Cole said. “However, it has been made fundamentally clear that our state government is not right-sized for our current population. Simply put, our budget is unsustainable. Absent a long-term restructuring of the way we do business in West Virginia, our citizens will be saddled with hundreds of millions of dollars in tax increases over the next several years just to maintain our current level of government.”
“With unemployment rampant and families struggling to make ends meet, West Virginians cannot be forced to pay more to maintain a government ranked third nationwide in per capita spending,” Speaker Armstead said. “We have to fundamentally change and rein in our bloated government before we ask our citizens for more money.”