State lawmakers discuss budget, tolls and Medicaid expansion - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

State lawmakers discuss budget, tolls and Medicaid expansion

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Bluefield, W.Va.---Republican Delegates from District 27 along with Virginia Senator-Democrat Phillip Puckett meet in Bluefield, W.Va. Friday to discuss major issues facing state lawmakers in the upcoming session.

"I saw something that said $265 million shortfall so in all certainly there is going to be a substantial shortfall and we are going to be struggling with that," says W.Va. Delegate John Shott.

Shott wants fellow lawmakers to treat the state's budget woes like any family or business facing a financial crisis. Assess which programs and services are essential to government and make cuts to the one's that don't work.

"Our society usually responds to disasters after they happen and they are not very good at preempting a lot of things," says W.Va. Delegate Joe Ellington.

Ellington estimates it would take a 7.5 percent across the board cuts just to eliminate the current budget shortfall. He also questions how West Virginia will pay for the expansion of Medicaid to an estimated 92,000 new enrollees. The total cost could reach a billion dollars over the next ten years.

"Personally I see that it is going to get progressively worse. We are going to see more people under the Medicaid plan, which many are going to qualify for. People are probably going to be kicked out of their own private plans, says Ellington.

Another topic of discussion is the ongoing battle to eliminate tolls off the West Virginia Turnpike by 2019. Delegate Marty Gearhart says he plans to reintroduce a bill that would prevent the West Virginia Parkways Authority from borrowing money and eventually transfer its powers to the state's Division of Highways.

"Our bill sort of solidifies that and puts requirements on the Department of HIghways and the Parkways Authority so that in fact those tolls are gone in five years, "says W.Va. Delegate Marty Gearheart.

Meanwhile, W.Va. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Highways Commission wants to keep the tolls going past 2019 to help pay for highway infrastructure projects. 

While West Virginia legislators work around a massive budget shortfall, lawmakers in the Commonwealth of Virginia have a $400 million surplus.

Democrat Senator Phillip Puckett says there will be a 30 million dollar investment in mental health services. It is in response to the tragic shooting of state Senator Creigh Deeds by Deed's adult son.

Puckett says construction will continue on the four -lane upgrade of U.S. Route 460 in Buchanan County.

But when it comes to the Affordable Health Care Act, Virginia has decided not move forward with the Medicaid expansion.

"Virginia has chosen not to move forward at the present time, but we have a working commission made up of five Senators and five Delegates. They are trying to resolve some of the Medicaid issues such as cost and how it's delivered and hopefully they will be able to move forward. But that is a struggle right now, "says Va. Senator Phillip Puckett.

The West Virginia Legislature and the Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday, January 8.

The annual "Point of View" breakfast is sponsored by the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce and the Tazewell Chamber of Commerce.

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