The Times West Virginian

February 20, 2013

Tomblin seeks funding for child care, Medicaid, attorneys

By Lawrence Messina
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Medicaid, child care aid and West Virginia’s public defender program are among the intended beneficiaries of $180 million worth of spending proposals that emerged Tuesday from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s agenda for the legislative session.

The governor also seeks to fund behavioral health and a new project targeting the state’s inmate crowding crisis with the four supplemental measures introduced on his behalf.

The bills are separate from the proposed 2013-2014 state budget that Tomblin sent to the Legislature when its session began Feb. 13. They instead would add funding to or redirect money already in the current state spending plan, which lasts until June 30. But while $95 million of the total is earmarked for Medicaid, administration officials want the program to bank that money until the coming budget year. Another $50 million meant to be carried over for Medicaid is already in the current budget as a special reserve.

“This is a way to get a large amount of money to Medicaid from these various funding sources that we have,” state Budget Director Mike McKown said Tuesday. “This is what is required to keep (Medicaid) at current levels.”

McKown estimated that Tomblin’s proposed budget already includes $900 million for the state’s share for Medicaid, which also receives matching federal funds. The state’s portion of Medicaid was just $764 million two years ago. The program’s rising costs have increasingly squeezed the general revenue budget at a time when the taxes that support that portion of state spending expect little or no growth.

General tax and lottery revenues left unspent during prior budget years would provide most of the measures’ new funding. One of the bills also relies on $75.4 million swept from nine different special program accounts. That measure includes $1.5 million from the recent public financing pilot program for Supreme Court candidates, $2.5 million from a state employee sick leave account and $3.8 million from a Capitol Complex parking garage fund. McKown said administration officials have concluded that the accounts can spare the money.

Around $17.4 million of the proposed spending would shore up a program that helps low-income parents afford child day care. The money would replace a depleted surplus of federal funds. It would also allow the state to avoid making it more difficult for parents to qualify for the program, which is based on income levels.

Another $3.6 million would help the state comply with a court order governing how it funds behavioral health services. That funding would pay 36 new staffers and open new group homes, among other purposes, McKown said.

Lawyers appoint to represent poor people charges with crimes would receive $11 million. The new Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project aimed at reducing inmate crowding while improving public safety, would receive $3 million for substance abuse programs and $500,000 to train probation and parole officers and others involved in community-level supervision.