<strong>By Phil Kabler\r\n<\/strong><strong>For WV Press Association<\/strong>\r\n<h1>With less than a month remaining in 60-day regular session, House and Senate leaders unveiled their counterproposal to Gov. Jim Justice\u2019s budget plan.<\/h1>\r\nWhat Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, proposed was not so much an alternative budget bill, but what they called a framework to cap general revenue spending for the 2017-18 budget year at $4.05 billion.\r\n\r\nThat\u2019s about $390 million less than the current state budget and $445 million below Gov. Jim Justice\u2019s budget plan, which would require raising about $350 million in new taxes.\r\n\r\nThe legislative proposal would require cuts to areas that have been spared major reductions in the past, including K-12 public education and programs in the Department of Health and Human Resources, along with additional cuts to Higher Education.\r\n\r\nCarmichael said he envisions that the \u201cbig three\u201d of the state budget will have $150 million of spending cuts - about $50 million each.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhat you have before you is a group of legislators willing to make the tough decisions, and go into areas that have too long been off-limits,\u201d Carmichael said during an announcement where he and Armstead were joined by numerous House and Senate Republicans.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe have avoided going into the three big areas that effectively constitute roughly three-quarters of the general revenue budget,\u201d Armstead added. \u201cWe believe there are very responsible ways we can go into those funds and make reductions.\u201d\r\n\r\nSpecific cuts will be determined later in the session, the leaders said, as House and Senate Finance committees comb through each agency\u2019s budget requests.\r\n\r\nWhile Gov. Justice had been pressing the leadership to make their counter-offer on the 2017-18 budget plan, their announcement leaves a $445 million chasm between the two proposals, potentially setting up a repeat of last year\u2019s budget impasse when the budget bill did not pass until June 14 - 16 days away from a state government shutdown.\r\n\r\nJustice was dismissive of the legislative proposal, commenting, \u201cBless their hearts, but the Legislature\u2019s framework will not save the patient. What we saw today from the House and Senate only kicks the can around the block. It doesn\u2019t give our classroom teachers a pay raise, it doesn\u2019t increase tourism advertising, it doesn\u2019t bring jobs, and it lacks the tools to jump start our economy.\u201d\r\n<h2>The governor added, \u201cThe clock is ticking; let\u2019s work together to pass a responsible budget that brings jobs or we will die 50th.\u201d<\/h2>\r\nLater in the week, Justice said he was frustrated that legislators have tried to portray the budget options as \u201craising taxes versus living within our means\u201d as opposed to his view that it is a matter of investing in the state versus continuing on a path to economic collapse.\r\n\r\nIf the debate on the budget is like a chess match, Justice made a move late in the week to garner support for his budget, announcing plans to restore funding for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the popular Mountain Stage concert series in his budget bill - contingent on the Legislature approving his tax increase proposals.\r\n\r\nWhen Justice unveiled his budget plan on Feb. 8, he zeroed out funding for those programs, much to the outcry of their supporters and fans.\r\n\r\nIn a letter to the Legislature Friday, Justice advised that he would restore the $4.6 million of funding for Public Broadcasting, if legislators approve his version of the budget.\r\n\r\nHe said of his original proposal to cut Public Broadcasting\u2019s funding, among $26.6 million of proposed spending cuts, \u201cWe had to put some things on the table to start a dialogue.\u201d\r\n\r\nJustice added, \u201cIt\u2019s not like I\u2019ve been an adversary to Public Broadcasting. I think it\u2019s very much needed in the state.\u201d\r\n\r\nJustice said putting Public Broadcasting back in the 2017-18 state budget would provide an opportunity to pursue a possible transition to move operation of the state\u2019s public television and public radio stations from the Educational Broadcasting Authority, a state agency, to West Virginia University.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe are working with (WVU) President Gordon Gee to transition West Virginia\u2019s Public Broadcasting into the WVU family,\u201d Justice said.\r\n\r\nWVU operated the public television station in Morgantown, now WNPB-TV, from its inception in 1969 until the EBA took over operations in 1981.\r\n\r\nMeanwhile, talk of $50 million of potential budget cuts made the annual Higher Education Day at the Legislature a bit gloomy this year.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt\u2019s a bit of a paradox, I guess, to have them say how great we\u2019re doing on the one hand, then they want to cut us 20 percent on the other,\u201d Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert commented.