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GOP delegates question legality of funding bills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Supplemental appropriations bills -- which transfer unused money in various state agency accounts to cover budget shortfalls for other state agencies -- usually don't generate controversy, but House Republicans made an exception to that rule on Tuesday.

Initially, their concern over the bill (HB4182) was over whether any money in the bill's transfer of $109 million of special revenue funds to the Department of Health and Human Resources' Medicaid account would be used to fund abortions.

However, GOP leaders had a passage vote on the bill delayed on Monday over concerns about whether the bill -- and most other supplemental appropriations bills -- is constitutional, since the bill also makes appropriations to volunteer fire departments, the West Virginia Rehabilitation Center, the state Racing Commission and other agencies.

"Our goal is to raise this issue, and hopefully, as we move forward with future supplementals, to look at this issue very carefully," said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

The West Virginia Constitution states that supplemental appropriation bills are to be limited to a "single work, object or purpose."

"If we have a supplemental appropriation that includes more than one department, we are on very infirm constitutional ground," argued Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha.

"If this is challenged, and that funding is not available to them because the Supreme Court says the Legislature acted inappropriately and unconstitutionally, that funding goes away," Lane said, raising concerns on the possible impact on agencies slated to receive the appropriations.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and other House leaders concluded that there is no constitutional issue with the traditional "bundling" of various agencies into supplemental appropriations bills.

"If what we're doing today is unconstitutional, then yesterday's bill was, as are all supplemental appropriations from time immemorial," said Finance Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, referring to a supplemental appropriations bill (HB4177) that passed the House Monday on a unanimous 97-0 vote.

Delegate Tom Craig, D-Cabell, argued that not only is the current system constitutional, but it would be unduly burdensome to vote on each appropriation individually. To date, the Tomblin administration has introduced at least 18 supplemental appropriations bills, each containing multiple individual funding transfers and appropriations to various state agencies and departments.

"Breaking out every supplemental one by one would unnecessarily slow down this process," Craig said. "Do we really want to go in that direction?"

Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, ultimately called on fellow Republicans to support the bill.

"The point is, we're not voting on whether this thing is constitutional or unconstitutional. The point now is, do we support the agencies in this bill, the volunteer fire departments, and the others?" he said.

The bill includes a $4 million transfer to a fund in the state auditor's office used to help volunteer fire departments pay their firefighters' workers' compensation insurance premiums.

It passed the House on a 92-4 vote with four members absent. Voting against the bill were Delegates Butler, Gearheart, Howell and Lane.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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