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Budget bill passes W.Va. state Senate

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate passed a state budget Wednesday that restored much of the funding cut last week in committee.

House Bill 2022, the budget bill, passed 24-10 late Wednesday evening after the Senate amended its version of the budget, Senate Bill 125, and inserted the contents of its bill into the House Bill. The only Democratic senator to vote for the bill was Bob Plymale, D-Wayne.

The House can either concur with Senate changes to HB 2022 or reject those changes and ask the Senate to recede from those changes, setting up a possible conference committee and compromise in time for the end of the 2021 legislative session Saturday night.

SB 125 was the Senate’s version of the budget for fiscal year 2022 starting July 1. State law requires the Legislature to pass a balanced budget. Gov. Jim Justice presented his budget proposal to lawmakers during his State of the State address on Feb. 10.

The Senate version of the general revenue budget came in at $4.488 billion, which was $5 million less than the $4.493 billion budget in the original version of House Bill 2022 and $81 million less than the governor’s $4.569 billion proposal. The Senate version leaves $72 unappropriated.

The Senate Finance Committee cut more than $83 million from the governor’s proposed budget, including $21.2 million in 1.5 percent agency-recommended cuts. SB 125 also cut $12 million from West Virginia University, $6 million from Marshall University, $3.8 million from the Educational Broadcasting Authority, and $3.3 million from the governor’s Jobs and Hope substance abuse treatment and jobs program.

Amendments to SB 125 offered Wednesday from Republican senators restored funding taken from the governor’s Communities in Schools mentoring program, restored 98.5 percent of the funding for the Educational Broadcasting Authority (West Virginia Public Broadcasting), and restored the funding cut to Marshall and WVU.

“I’m so happy that we’re doing this,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “I think it’s really important. I know there were a number of members in the body who were nervous about the cuts to WVU and Marshall and Public Broadcasting that were in the budget. I think it’s the right thing for the State of West Virginia.”

Democratic senators attempted to amend SB 125, but all amendments were rejected. Amendments included attempts to increase funding to the West Virginia State Police, restore funding cut from the Bureau of Senior Services, increase funding to health sciences and rural health programs at the WVU School of Medicine, and increasing funding to the Library Commission.

Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, was the lead sponsor of the West Virginia State Police amendment. The amendment would have provided raises to troopers and employees.

“We have a looming crisis in our state and it deserves our attention,” Ihlenfeld said. “You talk to any leader in the State Police and they’ll tell you their numbers are down and the applications for these positions are down.”

The only amendment accepted from a Democrat was increasing funding to the Broadband Enhancement Council. Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, is a non-voting member of the Broadband Enhancement Council. His amendment would move $50 million of unappropriated funding to the council.

Plymale pointed to an October 2020 press conference by Republican lawmakers and Justice promising to fund broadband expansion by $50 million every year for three years starting with the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“This fulfills that promise,” Plymale said. “It’s time to say, ‘we’re with you, governor.'”

Lawmakers have until midnight Saturday to pass the budget. While in years past the Legislature would extend the session for one week to complete action on the budget, the Republican-led Legislature typically completes the budget by the final day of session without the need to extend the session.

Just in case, Justice issued a proclamation extending the legislative session into Sunday if the budget is not completed by Saturday night.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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