By Lawrence Messina
West Virginia teachers would get more money for classroom supplies and the State Police could train a new cadet class under a proposed state budget advanced Tuesday by the House Finance Committee.
The committee’s version also scales back some of the 7.5-percent cuts ordered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for most agencies under his authority. These changes restore funding for such high-priority needs as programs addressing domestic violence and sexual assaults as well as aid to help disabled people live independently, said Finance Chair Harry Keith White, D-Mingo. But it still spends $5 million less in general tax revenues than what Tomblin, a Democrat, proposed when the Legislature’s session began in February.
The Senate Finance Committee amended and advanced its own budget bill Tuesday. With the House taking the lead on the state spending plan this year, and the session ending Saturday, lawmakers are expected to approve a final budget during an extended session next week. The new budget year begins July 1.
The House Finance Committee increased the money that each classroom teacher receives for supplies from $200 to $300. The change responds to the practice of faculty senates, which routinely take half the current amount to divvy up school-wide.
The House committee also added $800,000 to update software so that all schools could link up to the state Department of Education’s network. It cuts $850,000 in department personnel spending to comply with the governor’s wide-ranging education measure, passed earlier this session, which requires 5 percent cuts in each of the next two budget years.
More county property tax revenue than expected helped free up state dollars for these education needs. The committee also erased nearly $46,000 meant to fund a break for West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year, after learning from the department that this money hasn’t been drawn down for several years.
Other changes made Tuesday by the House committee gave the State Police an additional $3 million for vehicles and fuel. That move is aimed at preserving the agency’s personnel budget, typically raided for those costs, so it can start a new class of cadet troopers. Other tweaks restore $161,000 for the Charleston-based poison control hotline, and shift $7.5 million to fund Tomblin’s plan to convert the Industrial Home for Youth at Salem into an adult prison. The Division of Forestry’s tree nursery gained $380,000, after the governor left that funding out of his proposal by mistake, White said.
The committee added and restored some of the funding after the Supreme Court agreed to cut its spending by $4 million. Tuesday’s version of the budget bill also reduces local economic development project funding by $2 million, and money for the state’s 4-H camp by $650,000.
All told, the House Finance panel proposed $11.4 billion in total state spending, or $232.7 million less than the budget bill passed last year. About $4.13 billion of the new budget would come from general revenues, and another $408 million from lottery proceeds. Federal funding and block grants would provide $4 billion. Such special revenue sources as fees paid for licenses and permits would fund another $1.5 billion. The road funding portion of the budget totals $1.19 billion. The House Finance Committee also included $50 million from untapped surplus to ensure a balanced budget.
Lawmakers are crafting a spending plan amid faltering general revenues during the current budget year, and the rising costs of maintaining the state Medicaid program. Tomblin has yet to decide whether to expand Medicaid as called for by the federal health care overhaul.