CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Bucking a practice that had been standard for decades, the Republican-led Legislature today unanimously passed a Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Bill that provides significant public employee pay raises, controls other government spending, and balances the state’s finances without any tax increases.
“This is a historic day in West Virginia,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “This Legislature was able to balance unprecedented challenges to pass a balanced budget that features no tax increases, all while doing it in record time for our modern budget era and with unanimous approval from all legislators.”
“This budget respects our taxpayers,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “We have kept our promise to pass our budget within the 60-day session. We have unanimously adopted a responsible budget that secures funding for critical programs, limits growth in government spending and provides our teachers, school service personnel, state troopers, correctional officers and state employees with much needed pay raises.”
House Speaker Pro Tempore John Overington, R-Berkeley, who was first elected in 1984 and is the longest-serving legislator in point of continuous service, said today’s passage of the budget bill was unprecedented in the modern era.
“I can’t recall a time during my service that we have ever unanimously passed a budget before the end of the 60-day session,” Delegate Overington said. “Considering the complexity of the budget process, this is a remarkable achievement.”
While the $4.38 billion General Revenue budget is $156 million more than last year’s $4.22 billion budget, that spending increase is primarily attributed to the increased public employee pay packages passed during session, along with increased funding to the Public Employees Insurance Agency to ensure there are no changes to premiums, deductibles or out-of-pocket health expenses for the coming year.
The vast majority of other spending in this year’s budget was unchanged from the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Bill. The budget does not use any money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and funds Medicaid health services at the same level as it is currently funded.
The framework of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Bill, Senate Bill 152, had been negotiated by leadership of the House of Delegates and state Senate earlier this week as part of their agreement to provide an average 5-percent pay raise to public employees.
“The fact that we could so quickly pass a budget – following intense negotiations over the largest pay raise for public employees in our state’s history – is proof of Republican leadership’s hard work and respect for our taxpayers,” said Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. “Even though the Governor had already decided to extend our session, passing this budget today saves our citizens the $35,000-a-day cost of an extended budget session and shows we are determined to lead responsibly.”
The spending plan does not include Gov. Jim Justice’s recent $58 million boost to state revenue projections. Lawmakers said that if that additional revenue does come in over the course of the fiscal year, they can pass supplemental appropriation bills to allocate the funding to other areas of need.
“With this budget, we are being prudent and making sure our revenue estimates hit the mark first before planning any additional spending,” said House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “When you combine the raises with increased funding to PEIA and our retirement plans, this budget provides more than $150 million in increased pay and benefits to our public employees over the coming year. That is a substantial investment in our teachers, service personnel and state employees – and is all being done without a single tax increase.”
The various pay raises for teachers, service personnel, corrections officers, State Police and state employees included in the budget added an additional $107.5 million in increased spending. The increased pay also triggered an additional $15 million in required contributions to state retirement plans, while $29 million was added to the PEIA program to ensure there were no changes in the coming year.
The Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Bill now heads to Gov. Jim Justice for his consideration.