Forget Frugality During This Year

If the money is there, spend it. That is the philosophy of government at all levels, and it is why West Virginians should not expect anyone to worry about cutting waste or maximizing efficiency in state government this year.

State government revenue has been tight during the past few years. That has led to battles between legislators and bureaucrats about budget discipline. Suggest an agency might have to make do with less, and it will not be long before predictions of doom and gloom issue from the Capitol Complex in Charleston. Law enforcement will suffer. College tuitions will skyrocket. You know the drill.

All that has come to an end, courtesy of rebounding revenue collections. There will be no need for midyear spending cuts. Many legislators are predicting the budget process will be painless and quick this year.

That was not the case during the tough times. During fiscal 2017, the state general revenue fund actually spent about $118 million less than it had the previous year ($4.305 billion in FY 2016 vs. $4.187 billion in FY 2017). Then, for the current fiscal year, lawmakers adopted a general revenue budget only slightly higher, at $4.223 billion.

Gov. Jim Justice’s general revenue budget proposal for the coming year is $4.352 billion, an increase of about $127 million.

In some cases, the governor is requesting even more than state agencies requested — and the bureaucrats are not noted for being restrained in what they seek.

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services requested $10.901 billion for the coming year. That includes general revenue, lottery and federal funds, among other sources.

Justice’s budget request asks for $11.032 billion for the DHHR — about $131 million more than the agency had said it needed.

A comprehensive review of state spending, requiring justification for every dollar agencies propose to spend, is long overdue in West Virginia. It never seems to happen, even during times in which we ought to be scrimping and saving every dime on which we can lay our hands.

It probably won’t happen this year, either.

Why? Because — never mind how many Mountain State residents and businesses have to watch our spending closely to pay our taxes — the money is there. Why should government be frugal when it doesn’t have to be?