It’s getting more and more difficult for state officials not to publicly panic about the ongoing budget stalemate. The legislative session ended nearly eight weeks ago, but Democrats and Republicans are no closer to reaching a compromise.
Right now, our state leaders are arguing about how to close a $270 million gap in the state’s budget.
State officials—including the governor’s office—aren’t sure what would need to be done if a new budget isn’t ready when the 2017 fiscal year begins on July 1.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Monday he will call a special session of the legislature on Monday, May 16.
It is increasingly likely though this problem could hit closer to home – for state residents of all ages – even after a new budget is in place. Various scenarios consider cuts to major pots of money—health, education, public safety and the Department of Health and Human Resources—perhaps even the West Virginia Promise Scholarship, depending on legislators’ wishes.
What could be cut?
A document put together by the state tax office outlines potential budget cut scenarios, impacting many individuals and organizations.
“All of these options are painful, but might be a way to go if you have to cut $150 to $200 million out of the budget. These are the places we would possibly end up having to go at some point,” State Communications Director Chris Stadelman said.
- A 4 percent cut to public education would result in 805 teachers and 495 service workers laid off, first reported by MetroNews and confirmed by Stadelman if this reduction becomes reality.
- Higher education isn’t safe either. “If higher education were to sustain another significant cut, then it is entirely possible that programs would be eliminated and campuses may close. And if it were to result in an 8 percent cut, we do believe it would result in some campuses closing – such as branch campuses and also eliminate programs,” he said.
- The Promise Scholarship could also be on the chopping block. “This is nothing we want to do, and we don’t think this will happen, but if you are looking at all cut options that would be one of the things that could happen. A 100 percent reduction of Promise would be $47.5 million – that’s if we eliminated all of it today,” he said, adding that a little over 9,000 students had this financial help last year. A slower phase-out of the scholarship could save $11.9 million. In fact, the state just sent out a letter to high schools advising them not to make any promises to graduating seniors.
- Insurance for state employees: The possibility of leaving a $43 million gap in the Public Employees Insurance Agency funding has also been suggested and remains controversial, Stadelman said. As a result of ongoing financial problems, current public employees’ deductibles will raise by $500 for single coverage, and $1,000 for families beginning July 1. Earlier this year the PEIA Finance Board re-approved cuts to the health insurance plan that covers approximately 230,000 current state employees and their dependents as well as retirees.
Public safety could also be cut, including the potential loss of 87 state police troopers, Stadelman said. “We’ve been accused of using that as a scare tactic, but it could be a reality,” he said.
“He (Tomblin) does not believe it is appropriate to make additional cuts because we’ve already cut $300 million in the last couple of years. They have already been painful to this point, and any additional cuts would be really painful,” he said.
Republicans, however, favor additional cuts rather than imposing new taxes. One Republican plan (from Del. Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha) would cut the following:
- Money to higher education athletics and foundations – $34 million
- Reducing state Department of Education and district administrators by 10 percent – a $6.4 million cut
- Eliminating the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical Colleges – $7.3 million
- Eliminating Regional Education Services Agency operations (RESAs) – at $3.5 million.
“There is not consensus at this point” Stadelman said. “People do have a right to be concerned, because we are now going on two months’ worth of negotiations but haven’t been able to get to that point,” he said.
“As Robert Kiss (cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Revenue) said in the revenue call this week, we can’t live in this limbo forever,” he said, adding that Tomblin’s budget proposal from earlier this year already contained about $94 million in cuts including a 4 percent mid-year cut from 2015.
What happens if they don’t reach an agreement in Charleston?
The clock is ticking, said House Minority Leader Tim Miley, who this past week sent letters to Senate President Bill Cole (who is also a gubernatorial candidate) and House Speaker Tim Armstead, both Republicans, stressing there are less than 60 days left until state government might possibly shut down.
“Under the assumption that Senate Republican leadership will not be considering tax increases for fiscal year 2017, I would respectfully request that members be provided with a list of budgetary cuts being considered by your leadership team,” Miley, D-Harrison, wrote in a May 3 letter.
Using one-time monies and the Rainy Day Fund will also have consequences because of how quickly they will be depleted, he said.
Featured photo by David Grant/Flickr