Being Prepared On W.Va. Budget

A week ago, Charleston was permeated with a near-sense of panic. Time was running out for West Virginia legislators and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to agree on a budget. There were warnings — some of them in the press — state government might shut down. For months before, there had been other fears promoted: State police would be laid off if spending was cut. County school district budgets would be jeopardized. College tuition would be increased.

It all played right into the hands of the big-government crowd. A budget was approved by legislators early last week. Tomblin clearly was pleased with what they sent him.

None of what the fear-mongers warned us about would transpire — if any of it ever was a real possibility.

In the end, a general fund budget bearing a remarkable resemblance to the state’s current spending plan was approved. That is just how the bureaucrats wanted it.

How did they get what they wanted? It was quite simple, really: They caught would-be spending cutters with our collective pants down, totally unprepared for the budget process.

It happens that way every year. And every year, some West Virginians vow, “never again!” But what needs to be done to prevent such fiascos never seems to occur.

It is just this: Fiscally conservative legislators need to start cutting the fiscal 2018 budget right now.

Of course, that budget year does not begin until July 1, 2017. Legislators will not even have an opportunity to address the matter until next January. Discussing the budget that far in advance would be premature, the bureaucrats in Charleston will say.

It is not too early to begin combing through the budget, line by line. Probing questions need to be asked about each and every line item in the budget. State agencies need to be told they will have to justify every dime they plan to spend. Then, it might be a good idea to inform them that between FY 2017 and FY 2018, they will have to manage 10 percent spending cuts — without the sky-is-falling cuts in service they threatened this year.

Unless that is done, bet on this: Next spring, the bureaucrats will adopt the same strategy and tactics they used successfully this year. The only change may be that they have so cowed lawmakers that a budget is adopted on the normal schedule, by mid-March.

West Virginians’ needs, not those of state government, need to come first in our state — for a change.

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