What a whirlwind of a week! In order to make sense of the chaos, let me walk you through the past week day by day.
JUNE 9. A committee charged with finalizing the compromise budget delayed meeting multiple times that day after only two days work. At 4 p.m. they begged the legislature for an extension to “do more work.” I voted no because they had taken plenty of time already. However, the legislature granted them an extension to work over the weekend. At 4:15 p.m. that same committee met for a grand total of 10 minutes before adjourning and going home for the weekend. Truth is stranger than fiction!
JUNE 10. Sensing trouble, Governor Justice met with Speaker Armstead and President Carmichael to try and make a compromise work. Income tax reductions were the main sticking point in the budget negotiations, as some argued the wealthy would receive more of a benefit. Governor Justice amended the proposal to exclude all those making $300,000 or more from receiving any reductions.
JUNE 12. It was up to the committee (the one that didn’t need all weekend after begging for an extension) to take a course of action. After again delaying their meeting for several hours, they failed to reach an agreement. The compromise was, unfortunately, dead.
JUNE 13. President Carmichael and the Senate, on a party line vote, passed a budget with over $170 million in cuts to higher education. The House received that bill and delayed taking action for one day.
JUNE 14. The House passed the Senate budget with changes. They added a tax on cell phone bills and distributed the cuts between higher education, public education, and Medicaid. I spoke out against the budget proposal because it hurts people and the very areas that will provide us economic development in the future. Not to mention that it still leaves budget deficits in future years, which will lead to yet another wasted special session.
JUNE 15. We are marching toward a government shutdown. Not only do we have to still reconcile the differences between the House and Senate budget plans, but we also have to reconcile the differences between our respective furlough bills. In the event that state employees cannot work due to a government shutdown, we must have a plan in place to protect them. It is irresponsible let this go so far without a plan. We also have once again put Governor Justice in the impossible position of either vetoing a budget at the last minute or letting a bad budget become law.
Finally, the roads plan has been lost in the budget debate. The House has yet to pass the governor’s road bills which will provide jobs, infrastructure, and a much-needed economic stimulus. I’ve been working hard behind-the-scenes to push those bills and am hopeful we can pass them today or tomorrow.
That is the view from the back pew this week… of a legislature in chaos. Democracy is messy, but it is the world’s best form of government. I will continue to work hard and do my best to represent you each day.
(Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and Delegate to the WV House. You may reach him at 304-340-3131 or firstname.lastname@example.org)