- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A month before a possible government shutdown, West Virginia lawmakers broke for Memorial Day weekend Friday after the House of Delegates cleared a budget that looks ripe for a veto.

The House plan includes no tax increases and leans on $143 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, in addition to $45 million in more cuts, $49 million swept from various agency accounts, and $34 million from casino and greyhound racing subsidies. The Senate will consider the budget when the session resumes Tuesday.

“We urge the governor to sign this budget, and then we’re committed to working with him to be able to look throughout the rest of this year at possible other measures, whether than means additional cuts, whether that means talking about revenue measures,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

The amount taken from the Rainy Day Fund is almost certainly a nonstarter for Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin - he has said he’s only OK with taking a few million dollars from the reserve cash.

Keeping lawmakers in session costs $35,000 a day, putting the tab at $350,000 through Friday, the 10th day. Lawmakers previously failed to concoct a budget in the 60-day regular session earlier this year.

“(Gov. Tomblin) is disappointed that the budget today passed by the House of Delegates does not identify a fiscally responsible solution,” said Tomblin spokesman Chris Stadelman. “He will continue to work with the Legislature to find common ground, but will not sign a budget that only offers short-term solutions to a larger problem.”

If the GOP-led Legislature can’t collaborate with Tomblin to craft an amenable budget, the state government will shut down July 1. A $270 million budget gap remains, and the issue behind it has largely been the downfall of the coal industry and low natural gas prices. West Virginia heavily relies on tax money from those two industries.

Negotiations imploded Tuesday when the House killed a $76 million package to raise taxes on cigarettes by 45 cents a pack and hike other tobacco taxes. In the House, where the GOP holds a 64-36 majority over Democrats, anti-tax Republicans and all but one Democrat voted against the package.

On Friday, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he thinks he could get 20 to 25 of his members to vote for a higher cigarette tax hike - by $1, to $1.55, worth $115 million annually.

To get enough votes in the Republican Caucus, House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles said, “I do not believe we could go that big” on the cigarette tax increase.

Tomblin called the GOP-led Legislature into session May 16. Lawmakers will return Tuesday.

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