House votes to divert $35M in lotto funds
CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would divert more than $35 million in excess state lottery funds to plug holes in the state budget, and keep its bond rating up.
The measure will cut 10 percent from several agencies that receive lottery funding, most notably the state's thoroughbred and greyhound development programs and other racing funds.
House Bill 4333 passed 75-25, with three absent or not voting. The bill was denounced by delegates whose constituencies rely heavily on gaming income, namely greyhound and horse racing.
Del. Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, chairman of the finance committee, said the cuts were necessary, and difficult decisions were made. The proposed budget cuts did not include funding to any county or city governments.
"That's pothole money for your cities," Boggs said.
Del. Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, voted against the measure and called the proposal reckless.
"I compliment the finance committee for doing what they did with what they had to work with," he said. "I will vote 'no' because this is a precarious way to balance a budget."
Morgan again raised the issue of increasing the sales tax by one cent, which he said will generate $200 million for the state government.
"How can you expect tourism and industry to come to your state if you're a cheap state?" he said.
Del. Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said he voted in favor of the bill because it helps his constituents in a positive way.
"We keep our bond rating up, and that helps with getting a lodge built out at Beech Fork," he said.
In all, the House of Delegates passed 49 bills Wednesday and sent them to the Senate on what is known as crossover day -- the last day for a bill to clear its house of origin for consideration by the other chamber.
The closest vote involved HB 4375, which would borrow $3 million to create a retirement investment fund through the state of West Virginia, offering security to those who don't have access to such a plan through their employer.
The rules so far are loosely defined, and West Virginia would be the only state in the U.S. to offer such a program.
Del. Doug Reynolds, D-Cabell, vice-chairman of the finance committee, fielded numerous questions on the issue, concluding that there is some risk involved, but the ultimate goal is to set up a successful program to combat the issue of people not having saved enough money for retirement.
Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, voted against the proposal, which passed 52-43 with three absent or not voting.
"You're telling us that we need to divert money, but then you're asking us to borrow money for a program that no one else has," she said. "I can't support that."
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