CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers are ironing out kinks in an election-year budget that avoids tax hikes and gives public workers raises.
But before statehouse leaders can tout the positives, they’ll begrudgingly look to dig into millions of dollars in savings.
A dreary budget picture looms over the 2014 midterm elections in the House of Delegates, where Democrats hold a slim six-seat edge over Republicans. In West Virginia’s traditionally Democratic Legislature, Republicans haven’t controlled the House since 1928.
House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said election-year timing plays a prominent role in delegates’ overwhelming opposition to increasing the cigarette tax, sales tax or other levies. All of the chamber’s 100 members are up for re-election.
“There is always some fear, by all elected officials at all levels, wondering whether the constituents back home will support them if they vote in favor of any tax increase,” Miley told reporters last month.
Democrats enjoy a wider majority in the Senate, where President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, endorsed a $1 bump to the state’s 55-cent tax on cigarettes.
Almost all lawmakers, however, voted this session to award $1,000 pay raises for teachers and 2 percent boosts for school service personnel. Officials say starting teacher salaries need to be more competitive with West Virginia’s neighboring states.