Identifying Ways To Save Money

Perhaps we should worry about a West Virginia “government shutdown” more frequently. Concern over the potential for one this year may spawn one of the most productive bureaucratic exercises seen for some time.

As Gov. Jim Justice and legislators were haggling about a state budget earlier this week, the governor’s chief of staff, Nick Casey, decided it would be wise to do some precautionary planning. Casey sent state cabinet secretaries a memo, instructing them to be ready with contingency plans should a budget not be in place by July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Much of Casey’s memo was predictable. He told agency heads to identify essential and non-essential state government services. As an example of work that cannot be interrupted, even if there is no budget in place, he cited state corrections institutions. One cannot simply walk away from a prison full of inmates, after all.

Justice himself was preparing for budget failure. He asked legislators to approve a bill to protect state employees from losing benefits such as health insurance if they have to be furloughed because no spending plan has been approved.

But Casey went another step. He suggested in his memo that even if a budget is enacted before July 1, identifying essential and non-essential tasks of state government could be useful.

Such a list could help state officials consolidate services and make government more efficient, Casey noted.

Indeed it could.

Casey’s memo puts at least some state bureaucrats in the position of admitting that there may actually be ways of saving money in Charleston. In case you had not noticed, state government has been united in its insistence that, to any meaningful degree, it cannot be done.

Legislators should insist on receiving copies of the responses Casey gets from the agency heads. The documents could well serve as a blueprint for making state government live within taxpayers’ means.