Keeping Politics Out of Budget
Within the next few days, Gov.-elect Jim Justice and West Virginia legislators will get a better idea of the depth of the budget hole they must find a way to fill in. That will happen when the Department of Revenue crunches the numbers showing how much the state collected in December.
By the end of November, just five months into the fiscal year, revenue was running $91 million behind estimates on which the budget was based. That forced Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who will be leaving office in a few weeks, to order yet another round of state spending cuts.
The situation may be even worse than a simple calculation using the $91 million, five-month discrepancy would indicate.
In early December, state Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss told lawmakers to expect a budget shortfall “north of $400 million” for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He added that the gap is a structural one — meaning that, in Kiss’ opinion, state government cannot bear enough additional cuts to cover the shortfall.
Already, talk of higher taxes to balance the budget is being heard in Charleston. That should be a last resort, of course. Justice and legislators should ensure every dime of efficiencies already has been wrung from state government before increasing the burden on Mountain State residents and businesses.
Under no circumstance should the governor and lawmakers repeat the fiasco that was last year’s budget-making process. It was not accomplished during the 60-day regular session of the Legislature, nor during a short special session immediately following. It took a special session during the summer, with just days left before the fiscal year began, to agree on a budget.
Much of the delay was because some state officials insisted on playing election-year politics with the budget.
There is no election this year, and that may help make the budget process a truly bipartisan one. If Justice and legislators need any more reason to do that, however, they should recall what happened Nov. 8, when West Virginians used their ballots to express their anger — and that is the right word — at decades of politics as usual in our state and nation.