CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia's House voted Wednesday for a $4.225 billion general revenue budget with some cuts from current spending but no revenue from the recently debated tax changes that divided the House from the Senate and Gov. Jim Justice.
The 69-30 vote came after Tuesday's impasse between House and Senate negotiators on a tax bill that would have raised some state revenue. The state's new fiscal year starts July 1.
"I think it's certainly better than a government shutdown," said Del. Dave Pethtel, a Wetzel County Democrat. Like some other legislators, he said he wasn't happy with the plan but it has less severe cuts than the budget the Senate passed Tuesday night.
The House spending plan contains $170 million more than the budget both houses passed two months ago that Justice vetoed, Republican Majority Leader Daryl Cowles said. That's based on the Justice administration's higher projected tax receipts from natural gas and coal production, which have been increasing the past several months, and an improved economy based partly on the assumption of a new highway rebuilding program.
It would still require cuts from higher education and social programs. Delegates said it cuts half as much from West Virginia University as the Senate budget and would preserve the state's federal Medicaid match of about $100 million.
Del. Mark Zatezalo said West Virginia's recent coal industry gains are timely and its natural gas production now has approximately tripled from historical levels, improving the state's future economic position. Legislators need to start considering how to create incentives for using the natural gas within the state and ensuring that the wealth from it goes to coffers in West Virginia, he said.
When the Senate briefly convened later, Republican Majority Leader Ryan Ferns said they were still reviewing the House budget but noted the higher revenue estimates were based on highway bills the House hasn't even passed yet. "We'll have to continue to look through it," he said.
The House Finance Committee on Tuesday amended and advanced one road reconstruction bill.
It would increase the variable minimum gas tax by 3.5 cents a gallon, raise the sales tax for selling a car from 5 to 6 percent and increase other state motor vehicle fees, which is expected to raise almost $140 million in the coming year for road repairs starting in July. The committee stripped from the bill an additional 1.5-cent flat gas tax. It would also support bonding should voters approve it in a referendum expected in August.
The Senate's majority Republicans have backed income tax rate cuts offset by sales tax increases, which Justice has advocated.
The House majority Republicans have backed broadening the sales tax to include cellphone and some other services with no rate increase and some income tax exemptions and modest cuts for military pensioners, Social Security recipients and those earning less than $100,000 a year.
Both houses are scheduled to meet Thursday.