CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Jim Justice could propose state budget cuts of more than $390 million and possibly as much as $606 million to the West Virginia Legislature at the start of the 2017 Regular Legislative Session next week.
“Things are indeed worse than I ever thought they could be,” reported Nick Casey, Justice’s chief of staff, when asked about West Virginia’s budget condition on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
That’s why, Casey said, he’s working with such a large range of budget cuts and “foregone expenditures,” meaning areas that haven’t been funded and possibly won’t be at all, as he and others in the Justice Administration assemble what could be the Governor’s budget proposal.
It’ll be up to Justice to make the final decisions on how far to take the cuts to address the projected $500 million shortfall in the budget for Fiscal Year 2018.
Justice presents his proposals to the Legislature during his State of the State Address on Feb. 8 when the 2017 Regular Legislative Session resumes.
Unlike in past years under Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, Casey said he’ll not be recommending across-the-board cuts to Justice. Instead, “They are cuts of existing programs that just get massively affected if these cuts go through,” Casey said.
He provided no other details beyond that.
“There’s just no good choices on these cuts at this stage of the game, except to say, ‘They’re going to be painful and they’re going impact people,’” Casey said.
The size of West Virginia’s budget hole should be a surprise to no one, according to House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha, 40). Without action, it’s projected to grow to $700 million by Fiscal Year 2019.
“There’s been a recognition all along that that’s what we were facing during this year, that we’re going to be looking at some significant cuts,” Armstead said. “I think that everyone has been basically preparing themselves for that.”
He said members of the Republican-led Legislature favor spending cuts over tax increases, but won’t be in lockstep with Justice on every proposed reduction to “rightsize” state government.
“I think we’re saying that this is a cooperative process and that we’re willing to roll our sleeves up and take our part in it as a Legislature,” Armstead said during a separate Monday “Talkline” appearance.
“Governor Tomblin was able to cut out, I think, $600 million in five years. We’re looking at numbers that are substantial in one year and it’s just, it’s enormous,” Casey admitted.
“It’s (with) a heavy heart that you even consider the kind of cuts we’re looking at, but the Constitution says we have to balance and we will balance.”