The official logo of the government shutdown.
The recent federal government shutdown — and the lapse in federal funding it caused — ended last Wednesday night, a little more than a fortnight after it began.
And it’s a good thing.
Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss, speaking to lawmakers at an interim meeting on Monday morning, said West Virginia likely would have faced huge financial difficulties if the shutdown had continued much longer.
The state began planning for the shutdown about a week before the federal government closed on Oct. 1, looking at two possible scenarios: a short-term shutdown that would end before Oct. 30, or a long-term scenario continuing past Nov. 1.
In the short-term, the state was able to use its own money to pay for some federally-funded programs. Because of that, no state programs were affected by the temporary lapse in federal funding, and no state workers were laid off.
“That wasn’t going to last much longer if the shutdown continued, certainly past Oct. 31,” Kiss said.
He said the state would be “hard pressed” to continue most federal programs without federal funding for more than a few weeks.
For example, West Virginia receives $185 million per month from the federal government just to fund Medicaid. If that funding dried up, Budget director Mike McKown said it would only take three months before West Virginia’s $900 million Rainy Day Fund was empty.
Jason Pizatella, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said the state would begin looking at ways it might operate independently of the “gamesmanship” in the nation’s capital, although the amount of funding West Virginia receives from the federal government would make it difficult to achieve that independence.
Kiss told legislators they should begin looking at legislation that would help the state deal with a prolonged government shutdown. He said while the state has many employees whose salaries are paid with federal money, there currently is no furlough statute in state law.
If West Virginia ever needed to lay off workers, it would essentially have to fire those people and re-hire them at a later date. Kiss said that could cause a host of problems with pension plans and seniority.
“Right now we’re in uncharted waters,” he said.
There is, of course, the possibility of another government shutdown in January.
The deal brokered in Washington last week will only fund the government for a few months, meaning federal lawmakers only have a short time to come up with a budget and get it passed. If budget talks fail like last time, the federal government will again shut down.
Kiss said the only good thing about that scenario is the state Legislature will be in session by that point and could deal with funding issues, if need be.