- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Less than a month before a possible government shutdown, West Virginia’s Republican-led Legislature left town Thursday for a 10-day break after approving a budget that faces an almost-certain veto.

Lawmakers adjourned a 13-day session coated in election-year politics after the Senate passed its budget on party lines Thursday. The House also was largely party-divided in accepting the final budget afterward. The session ended up costing taxpayers $455,000. Lawmakers failed to pass a budget during the 60-plus-day session that started in January when revenues got even worse amid historic declines in coal and low natural gas prices.

The plan includes no tax increases, including the three options Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed. It also uses $183 million from reserves to help cover a $270 million budget gap, which makes the bill likely dead on arrival on Tomblin’s desk.

Tomblin has warned that he’ll only use a few million in reserves.

“The governor has made clear to legislators and the public that we must have a structurally sound budget that does not rely on an excess of one-time monies and the rainy day fund,” Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman said. “He has not wavered from that position.”

Without a budget, the state government will shut down July 1. The upcoming November election played prominently as lawmakers made sure to blame the other political party if the government goes into a shutdown.

“If the governor vetoes and shuts down government with his pen, then have the opportunity to continue to act responsibly by coming back here and overriding such an irresponsible act,” said Del. Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha.

However, a veto override on a budget item requires a two-thirds vote. The GOP only has an 18-16 edge in the Senate and a 64-36 majority in the House.

Democrats contended that Republicans passed a “fictional budget” that will be vetoed and are leaving almost no time to pass one after a likely veto.

“You honestly think that we’re going to get a budget done in two-and-a-half weeks?” Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said about the motion to adjourn until June 12. “If you vote for this resolution, you are just rooting for a government shutdown. This is absolutely ridiculous.”

Negotiations imploded last week when the House killed a $76 million bill raising cigarette and other tobacco product taxes.

All but one Democrat voted against the bill, arguing that the increase should be higher to address the serious budget problem. Without new revenue coming in, the budget gap for 2018 will grow to $380 million. Enough anti-tax Republicans joined them to topple the idea.

Session ended as senators were considering a larger tobacco tax hike. Also left in limbo was a bill to let the governor furlough state employees, should the government shut down. As the law stands, Tomblin’s administration says the entire state workforce will be laid off in a shutdown scenario, in addition to having no way to make bond payments and a host of other serious problems.

“The consequences of a government shutdown for the state of West Virginia would be catastrophic, both for the state government and for its citizens,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan. “It would take years for the state to recover from such a colossal tragedy.”

Tomblin called lawmakers into session May 16.

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