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House approves lottery cuts over objections

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to cut various video lottery subsidies to free up $35 million to help balance the 2014-15 state budget passed the House of Delegates Wednesday with a 72-25 vote.

The bill (HB4333) passed over objections from delegates who said the cuts would hurt the thoroughbred and greyhound racing industries in the state.

House Finance Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said the Finance Committee had worked to soften the blow, reducing what had been permanent 15 percent cuts in the governor's bill to one-time 10 percent cuts. The committee also eliminated proposed cuts in Lottery subsidies to counties and municipalities, he noted.

"This is a piece of the puzzle to get where we need to go. It's not perfect, but its smaller than what the governor sent up," he said.

"The simple fact is, whether we like it or not, the failure of this bill to pass blows an additional $35 million hole in the budget," Boggs said before the passage vote.

However, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the 10 percent cut would be another blow to thoroughbred breeders in his district, already hard-hit by competition from casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

"In the panhandle, we certainly welcome the green industry the horse industry represents," he said. "While I know we have to have a balanced budget, I'm not willing to do that on the backs of the horsemen and the greyhound owners."

In fiscal year 2013, the most recent year available, Lottery figures show the thoroughbred and greyhound industries received Lottery subsidies totaling $87.6 million.

Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, concurred, noting, "This piece of legislation, if passed, could have a crippling, long-lasting impact on my district."

Similarly, Delegate Jeff Eldridge, D-Lincoln, said the cuts would hurt greyhound breeders in his district.

"I have greyhound breeders in my county that employ eight, nine, 10 workers and pay them a decent wage," he said. "I can't vote for this."

Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, also spoke against the bill, calling it a circuitous way to balance the budget.

"What are we going to do next year? What are we going to rob? What revenue are we going to move? What are we going to cut?" said Morgan, reiterating that his proposal for a temporary one percent increase in the state sales tax as a more financially sound way to balance the budget.

The bill goes to the Senate for further consideration.

Also Wednesday, the House:

* Passed 92-4 and sent to the Senate legislation to make applications and licenses for conceal carry firearms permits confidential and not obtainable through Freedom of Information requests  (HB4307).

* Passed 94-2 and sent to the Senate a resolution (HJR108) to put a referendum on the November ballot for a constitutional amendment that would allow the Boy Scouts of America to rent out portions of the Summit Bechtel Family Reserve complex in Fayette County for concerts, conferences, and other events without losing its tax exempt status for the 10,600 acre property.

 


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