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Justice pleased with special session

Photo Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography VOTE — A member of the House of Delegates votes on one of 24 bills during last week’s special session.

CHARLESTON — With 21 of 24 bills passed by the West Virginia Legislature last week, Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday he was pleased overall with lawmakers approving his spending proposals for $250 million in tax revenue surplus.

“We wanted to go 24 out of 24, that’s for sure, but overall it was a really good session,” Justice said Tuesday morning during his COVID-19 briefing. “I appreciate the Legislature and appreciate their oversight.”

Justice issued a proclamation June 18 calling the Legislature into special session, amending the proclamation three times before the House of Delegates and Senate met June 24.

Lawmakers had 24 bills to approve, moving $250 million in tax revenue surplus in the current fiscal year ending today. While the House convened its Finance Committee to review the bills, the Senate passed all 24 and adjourned, forcing delegates to abandon any changes to the bills and vote on them that same evening.

By the end of the night, only three supplemental appropriation bills did not make it out of the special session: a $850,000 appropriation for the Division of Personnel, a $750,000 appropriation for the Water Development Authority, and a $2 million appropriation for the Office of Technology. However, one of the bills that passed does give the Office of Technology spending authority should additional funding become available.

“In all honesty, I’m not concerned at all with getting the other bills,” Justice said. “They were really, for all practical purposes, really insignificant. But at the same time, important in their own way.”

Despite not getting the three bills, lawmakers approved the majority of his spending proposals. Some of the supplemental appropriations include $42 million in improvements to West Virginia state parks; $38.9 million for improvements to regional jails and state prisons; restoring $58 million in cuts placed in the surplus section of the FY 2022 budget starting next Thursday.

Other appropriations include $30 million for a closing fund used to help close funding gaps in private projects and investment; $24.4 million for the Governor’s Civil Contingency Fund; $24 million for the School Construction Fund; and $5 million for the Division of Tourism for economic development projects and promotion of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.

“There’s a lot of little things that we got done with surplus dollars,” Justice said. “Now we’re producing surplus after surplus and there’s a lot of good things happening in our Legislature. I was tickled to death with the session.”

Justice was most proud of the Legislature agreeing to move $50 million into the state’s rainy day fund. State revenue officials estimate that the state will bring in approximately $20 million in surplus tax revenue by the close of business today. With half of any surplus at the end of a fiscal year required to go to the rainy day fund by law and the $50 million appropriated last week by the Legislature, the rainy day fund is expected to hit $1 billion, the highest level since 2014.

“I mean, it’s a health like you can’t imagine for our state and just what it ought to be, a rainy day fund for times when things could turn bad,” Justice said. “I hope that we’re never going to see that. I’m going to try with everything within me to see that it doesn’t happen on my watch.”

Last week’s special session was the second special session in June and in 2021. Justice said he expects to call other special sessions to appropriate funds from the American Rescue Plan for infrastructure projects, such as broadband expansion.

Legislation passed during the regular session requires the governor to call the Legislature into special session to approve the appropriation of federal funds sent to the state during a state of emergency when those appropriations exceed $150 million.

“Now we’ll move on to handling the stimulus dollars and we’ll dial into things, like broadband and things like that that are high on the priority list with me,” Justice said. “It’s the same with the Legislature. We’re going to work with them and we’re going to get through it. We’ll try to set buckets and everything, where we can direct dollars and do them prudently and make more goodness happen in West Virginia.”

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

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