New Budget Approach Vital

With the clock ticking on a new budget for West Virginia government — the new fiscal year begins July 1 — House of Delegates members have a plan to try again. A tax bill dramatically different than one promoted in the state Senate was approved by delegates on Friday.

Senators are to reconvene Monday to deal with the House proposal.

As matters stood on Friday, the situation was this: State senators, with Gov. Jim Justice’s vocal support, have approved a bill calling for the personal income tax to be phased out. Lost revenue would be replaced through various steps, including an increase in the sales tax.

But the House bill — approved 74-14 — would not increase the sales tax. It also would not include a general phasing out of the income tax, though some breaks would be granted to Social Security recipients. Some tax increases, notably on telecommunications services, are included.

If you are a veteran observer of Mountain State politics, you may be forgiven for wondering what in the heck is going on in Charleston. Republicans and Democrats in the state Senate seem virtually united on one plan, while there is substantial bipartisan opposition to it in the House, and overwhelming support for a very different proposal.

It is one of the classic standoffs one might expect, except that party affiliation appears to have little to do with it.

Complicating everything else is the fact that an actual budget bill has not been introduced. Lawmakers and the governor have been talking about how much tax money will be raised and how that will happen. But a proposal for how much money the state should spend has been missing.

One claim that keeps cropping up in the debate over a budget is this: Unless legislators increase taxes drastically, there will have to be major cutbacks in state government.

But it is expected state General Revenue Fund spending this year will total about $4.128 billion, taking midyear spending cuts into account. It appears the House plan approved Friday would provide about $4.115 billion in revenue. That is only $13 million less than state agencies have to spend this year.

Few West Virginia taxpayers would consider that a crisis.

In all likelihood, Justice will condemn the House plan. But state senators of both parties should stop listening to him.

On Monday, when senators return to Charleston, they should sit down with their House counterparts and get a tax-and-budget plan in place.

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