The Back Pew. June 9, 2017

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After two weeks of tough budget negotiations, I’ve learned to cut to the chase. Here is the scoop.

DID BUDGET NEGOTIATIONS WORK? Yes, as someone who was in the room, it worked. Gov. Justice mediated a compromise which included something for everyone but not everything for anyone. I commend him, because those negotiations got us closer in a week than we had been for 90 days.

WHY DON’T WE HAVE A BUDGET YET? Because the House and Senate haven’t voted. Those in charge of setting the agenda haven’t let us vote on it yet. (This is why people loathe politics.) They don’t expect many from their own party to support it, and they’re afraid if it passes without many from their own party supporting it they’ll look bad. We all look bad, because we can’t do the one thing we’re required to do—pass a budget!

WHAT’S NEXT? Closed-doors negotiations are essentially over. A conference committee has been appointed with five delegates and five senators to work out the details of the compromise. Without Gov. Justice’s mediation sessions, we wouldn’t be able to do this. It’s possible that we’ll vote Thursday evening or Friday morning.

WILL IT PASS? That’s the $4 billion question. It will comfortably pass the Senate, but the House is another question. The Republicans have 64 seats, but only 20-30 delegates are considering voting for the compromise. The Democrats have 36 seats and 15-25 are considering voting for it.

HOW WILL I VOTE? If the vote were today, I would vote yes. We need a budget. We need a major infrastructure investment. We need to keep the taxes of working families affordable. We need to provide the services our most vulnerable citizens rely upon daily. And while the compromise isn’t perfect, it does all those things. I believe in compromise for the greater good, and this vote presents that opportunity.

WHAT HAPPENS IF IT FAILS? Republican leaders will almost certainly again pass budgets like they passed before, largely containing cuts. Gov. Justice will have the opportunity to veto again, but we are up against a government shutdown deadline now.

WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF A SHUTDOWN? Slim to none. While I do believe the legislature is dysfunctional enough to fail to pass a budget compromise on time, I do not believe Gov. Justice will allow our state, our employees, and our citizens who need service to suffer. He will likely allow a bad budget to become law this year rather than shut it down and cause suffering.

ARE YOU STILL SANE AFTER ALL THIS BUDGET MADNESS? Honestly, this has been the most frustrating experience of my life. There are days I dread going to Charleston again. Especially when the “leaders” around the table were the ones who got us in the mess. How can we expect them to fix the problems they caused? We need public servants who are willing to do what is right for the state. Too many are only thinking about the next election, and that is why we’re stuck in neutral.

That’s the view from the back pew this week.

(Delegate Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and member of the WV House. You may reach him at 304-404-4207 or stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov)