11 January 2010

Budget, Election-Year Politics to Loom over Session

West Virginia's Legislature is set to begin its 60-day regular session this week "hemmed in by budget constraints and the anxieties of election year politics," The Associated Press reports.

Fragile general tax and lottery revenues will greet the arriving House and Senate, as will a proposed budget for the next fiscal year that reduces spending in those areas to 2007 levels.

"The huge Democratic majorities in both chambers are prepared to, in essence, hold the ball: continue with policies they say have saved West Virginia from the fiscal pain visited on most other states," the article said. "Republicans, meanwhile, see a chance to advance both policy and political goals."

In particular, GOP lawmakers say "
the time is ripe for aggressive tax changes," AP reports. "They believe their agenda for the session will also appeal to voters unhappy with the year-old Obama administration."

One focal point of the session may be the unofficial surplus of $168 million left over from prior budgets. "
Manchin and fellow Democrats in the Legislature are counting on that money to avoid the sorts of harsh steps forced on other states," the article said, adding that to Republicans, "taxpayers provided that money and should get it back."

“People are struggling to make ends meet, and they’re making the tough choices," House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, told AP. "There’s no reason why the government should not also be making tough choices.”

Armstead would also not rule out the sort of procedural votes that became campaign ad fodder during prior elections. "With the entire House up this year, 71 of its 100 delegates are Democrats. That party also holds 26 of the Senate’s 34 seats, including 13 of the 17 on the November ballot."

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