Special session over; lawmakers leave Charleston

By Jeff Jenkins in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers ended their special session on the state budget Tuesday evening after passing several bills including a new funding source to stabilize the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

The bill (HB123) gives authority to the state revenue secretary during the next four budget years to sweep revenue accounts to come up with $15 million for PEIA. Most of the money will be used to rebuild the PEIA Trust Fund which has been deleted in recent years in exchange for not increasing health insurance premiums for state workers.

The bill was introduced by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last weekend and helped break an impasse on the new state budget. The bill calls for $5 million to be used in the new budget to reduce planned premium increases for retired state workers from 12 percent to six percent.

Some members of the House expressed concern about giving up the legislature’s power to control the state’s purse strings to an unelected official but House Majority Leader Darryl Cowles (R-Morgan) said the bill has checks and balances built in.

“In each of those four years, we, the people’s representatives, will reconvene here in regular session as an extra check and balance,” Cowles said.

Del. Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) said stabilizing PEIA, particularly for retirees, is the right thing to do.

“I think this is a higher, better purpose and I’m very glad we are all doing this together,” she said.

Passage of the bill brought to a close the special session which began May 16 and ended with a new state budget and no government shutdown. House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) said he remained confident throughout the nearly month long special session the legislature would approve a budget.

“It did cause a lot of consternation, a lot of concern, a lot of angst, by particularly people who work for the state and I can understand that,” he said. “Once the (first) budget (bill) was vetoed (last week) there were a number of people who came off of their dead set positions.”

There was compromise on both sides with the big give and take coming on the 65-cent increase in the tobacco tax, House Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison) said.

“They (GOP delegates) recognized, I believe, as did many in our caucus the need to get something done to create a revenue stream for the state and get a budget passed,” Miley said.

It will likely take a few days for the bills to make it to the governor’s desk.

Senate President Bill Cole released the following state Tuesday evening on the passage of the budget bill:

“With this vote today, we were able to end the uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians who rely on us to provide them with the stability that comes from a balanced, responsible budget. While it’s fair to say that nobody walked away from these negotiations truly happy, Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate were able to come together to do what is best for West Virginians. Governor Tomblin’s suggested 65-cent tax on tobacco products will help provide the necessary revenue to keep our government operating, and ensure we are able to keep our promises to our state employees and retirees. I am confident we have approved a budget the Governor can sign.”