ATLANTA - The West Virginia Legislature last week passed a $2.1 billion general fund budget for fiscal 1994 that permits issuance of about $200 million in revenue bonds for schools and jails.
The budget, passed Thursday at the end of a 12-day extended session, is 2% greater than the fiscal 1993 budget of $2.06 billion approved in 1992 but about $21 million less than requested by Gov. Gaston Caperton. The state's fiscal year begins July 1.
The budget incorporates about $100 million in tax increases, including a five-cent gasoline tax increase that will enable the state to begin its $450 million highway construction program this year. Legislators also approved adding $156 million to the state's retirement fund, $23 million more than designated for the current fiscal year, and $15 million in raises for university teachers.
In addition, lawmakers passed bills to reform the state Medicaid payment system and to spell out new regulations for sewage sludge and solid-waste incineration. However, the Legislature did not act on Caperton's proposed Health-Care Authority, which would centralize state medical services in one unit.
David Campbell, the governor's chief of staff, said he expected Caperton to approve the budget.
"We were pleased with what was accomplished during the session," Campbell said in an interview Tuesday. "It is consistent with our overall objectives of improving schools, public safety. and expanding the state's economy."
Campbell said the governor expects the various building programs approved by the Legislature to create 25,000 new jobs in the state.
"In West Virginia's history, I cannot recall a Legislature which has faced as many difficult issues and dealt with them more openly," the governor said in a statement.
"Though there were many times that success seemed impossible to achieve, the Legislature maintained its commitment to the future and worked diligently to solve many of our most pressing problems," he said.
Caperton, a Democrat, began his second term as governor in January.
The governor's chief of staff said the $12 million approved for debt service in fiscal 1994 on bonds to be issued by the state's School Building Authority will enable the agency to sell up to $150 million in new debt. He said that the $4 million appropriated for the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facilities Authority would permit the sale of up to $50 million in bonds.
The budget for fiscal 1993 included only $2 million in new debt service appropriations.
Since the school authority was created in 1989, it has gold $331 million of bonds, with proceeds have been used to build 26 new schools and renovate 470 others. The jail authority has sold $116 million of debt to fund the contstruction of a system of regional prisons in the state.
Campbell said that there could be a special session this fall for further reform of the state's health-care system, depending on what the Clinton administration proposes.
"We will have to see what happens nationally," he said.
Lawmakers have been unable to agree on the makeup of the governing board of the proposed Health-Care Authority. Senate members wanted part-time members, while representatives wanted members to serve full-time.
The state had a total of $1.7 billion of tax-supported debt as of March 31, according to the West Virginia State Board of Investments.
Besides the school and jail authority debt, the debt tally includes $346.1 million of general obligation bonds, rated A 1 by Moody's Investors Service and A-plus by Standard & Poor's Corp., and $361.8 million of debt for state colleges and universities.