WVa lawmakers pass $4.5 billion budget with cuts to colleges

Published: Apr. 11, 2021 at 2:47 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers approved a $4.5 billion budget on Saturday that leaves the state’s two top universities with a combined $28 million cut, unless future surpluses can kick in to cover it.

The 23-11 vote in the Senate came on the final day of the 60-day legislative session, during which a Republican supermajority fell short on its top priority of cutting the state’s income tax. Aside from that, Republican Gov. Jim Justice hailed it as a “great session.”

To keep his proposal to cut the income tax alive, Justice told reporters Saturday evening he would “go on the road immediately” to sell his plan to residents. The wealthy businessman then pulled out a wad of cash and said residents were set to save on average over $1,000 a year, depending on the extent of the cut.

His plan for a 40% initial reduction to the income tax passed the Senate but was emphatically voted down in the House of Delegates, 0-100, over Republican differences about how to pay for it.

Justice called that vote “grandstanding” and said he is considering calling a special session this year to pass it.

Justice also said he planned to sign the budget bill, calling it “solid.”

Lawmakers trimmed Justice’s initial budget proposal for the 2022 fiscal year by nearly $74 million, although much of that is expected to be backfilled by future budget surpluses.

Most of the debate in the Senate before final passage centered around cuts to West Virginia University and Marshall University. The two are set to see a 1.5% cut. And $18 million would be cut from West Virginia University’s general revenue budget, unless the state continues to post revenue surpluses, allowing $16.6 million to be clawed back.

Marshall University likewise saw a $10 million cut to its general revenue budget but could gain $9.7 million back from surpluses. The provision for both schools was inserted by Republicans in the House of Delegates who wanted deeper cuts.

Republican Sen. Eric Tarr, the chair of the Finance Committee, said he was confident the surpluses would come to fruition and restore most of the funding.

“Because our surpluses were so great, to me there’s not as much concern ... because it’ll essentially all get paid,” Tarr said before a final vote.

Democratic Sen. Ron Stollings still criticized the 1.5% cuts.

“The fact that Marshall and WVU will be funded hopefully with a surplus — that does not change the fact that their base budgets are cut,” Stollings said.

The Department of Tourism’s budget was cut in half to $7 million, although it would be restored under surpluses. The Department of Economic Development didn’t receive a boost in funding as Justice had proposed. It instead will see a cut of $3.8 million, with the potential of $1 million being backfilled.

Justice also said he would not veto a bill banning transgender athletes from participating in female sports in middle and high school and college. He said he might sign the bill, or just let it become law without his signature.

He said he did not favor the ban extending to collegiate sports, due to the potential of an NCAA backlash, but he said he thinks “the benefits of it way outweigh the bad part of it.”

The NCAA in 2016 moved championships out of North Carolina in response to a bill legislating transgender people’s use of public restrooms.

Supporters have argued that transgender athletes would have physical advantages in female sports. Opponents have slammed it as discriminatory and a solution in search of a problem.

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