Tomblin doesn’t expect Medicaid funding bill to pass
04/12/2013 - The Charleston Daily Mail. By Zack Harold.
CHARLESTON. - With less than two days left in the regular legislative session, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is ready to throw dirt on his plan to use rainy day fund interest to help meet rising costs in the state's Medicaid program.
The measure passed the Senate on April Fools' Day but has since stalled in the House Finance Committee.
"We knew it probably would," Tomblin said. "I do not expect to see it pass."
At Tomblin's request, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced Senate Bill 191 in February. The bill would have directed all investment earnings from the state's "Rainy Day B" fund to the state's Medicaid program.
At the end of March, the state's primary rainy day fund contained $565.4 million. The Rainy Day B account, which cannot be spent until all funds from the primary account are exhausted, contained $352.6 million.
State Budget Director Mike McKown said the secondary fund records investment earnings in some years and loses in others but since 2006 has earned an average $10 million per year.
The fund earned $9.3 million in fiscal year 2012 but has made $24.9 million in the first nine months of fiscal year 2013.
Currently, all the investment earnings remain in the account.
Tomblin said Senate Bill 191 was an attempt to satisfy the expectations of Wall Street rating agencies, who determine the state's bond rating and, therefore, its borrowing capacity.
Tomblin said he is not giving up on the measure, however, and likely would bring up the bill next year.
Another attempt by Kessler to shore up the state's financial future also failed this session.
Kessler has tried for the last two sessions to create a natural gas trust fund.
This year's bill would have set a baseline of natural gas excess tax revenue, and then funneled 25 percent of any money over that baseline into a trust fund. Eventually, with enough money in the account, Kessler said West Virginia would begin to accumulate huge amounts of investment earnings on that cash.
The bill passed the Senate Economic Development Committee but remains in the Senate Finance Committee. Since it did not leave the Senate before March 31's "crossover day," it will not pass this session.
Kessler said he asked Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, not to push the trust fund bill because of budget constraints this year. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed $4.46 billion budget includes $75.5 million in cuts for state agencies.
"This year, with budget cuts, it's hard to talk about saving," Kessler said.
He's not giving up on the idea, however.
"Eventually, the time will come to do something like that," he said.