CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday passed an admittedly flat budget that funds an intellectual disability treatment program as well as a second mentorship school for at-risk teens.
Delegates voted 95-5 to approve the budget after more than three hours of debate. The bill now returns to the Senate, where more changes are expected.
“Now it may not include everything that everyone would want in an ideal world, but it works within out available means to provide a great amount of good for the citizens of this state,” said Republican Del. Eric Householder, the House finance committee chairman.
One of the more high-profile spending items in the budget goes toward eliminating the wait list of the Intellectual Developmental Disabilities Waiver program, which provides at-home care for the intellectually disabled rather than institutionalized treatment.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice prioritized ending the wait list in his annual State of the State address, saying he wouldn’t sign a budget without funding to do so. He says there are 1,060 people on the waitlist, including more than 600 children.
The $4.6 billion budget also includes funding for a second Mountaineer Challenge Academy, a military-style mentorship program for at-risk teenagers.
Several other amendments, including measures to fund community food programs, buy bulletproof vests for state troopers and raise salaries for public defenders, were rejected after Republicans said they were unwilling to draw money away from the state’s Medicaid reserves. Justice’s administration is projecting declining revenues over the next several years.
“There are many good things in the budget but there are a whole lot of good things that should have been in there that we can afford that are not,” said Democratic Del. John Doyle, of Jefferson County.
On a party lines vote, Republican delegates rejected an amendment by Del. Isaac Sponaugle to set aside $8 million for a response to the coronavirus. Republicans argued the state already has pools of money that could be used for a response to the virus.
“I cannot for the life of me figure out why we don’t want to prepare,” said Sponaugle, a Pendleton County Democrat. “I think we have an obligation to fund some kind of plan.”
The legislative session ends Saturday.
“The budget’s pretty flat,” said Del. John Hardy, a Berkeley County Republican. “We didn’t really cut much. We didn’t really add much. We made sure that we took care of the commitments that we made.”