Basing Budget On Solid Number

West Virginians cannot rely on how much money we wish we had for the state government budget.

On Tuesday night, Gov. Jim Justice announced he had found a way to end the strike by public school personnel. They will be back at work Thursday, he said.

Justice already has signed into law a bill from the Legislature, granting school employees a 2-percent raise this year and consecutive 1-percent boosts during the ensuing two years. Leaders of the teachers’ and service personnel unions wanted 5 percent the first year.

Done, the governor said last night. He said he and his staff had gone through revenue numbers for next year and come up with $58 million more to meet the unions’ 5-percent demand.

From where is that money coming? “If I raise the revenue estimate, there’s a way to do it,” Justice explained.

In approving budgets, legislators rely on estimates from the governor of how much general revenue will be collected. Justice’s original estimate was for $4.716 billion next year.

But last night, he increased that to $4.774 billion, to cover the 5-percent raise.

Revenue will be higher for several reasons, Justice said. He cited tax reform at the federal level and spending involved in the $1.6 billion road bond approved last year by voters. Severance taxes may be increased, he added.

If that happens, the state’s natural gas drilling boom could be affected adversely.

We hope sincerely that the governor’s revised revenue estimate proves accurate. But lawmakers, no matter how much they want to end the strike, cannot rely on wishful budget thinking. That caused trouble in the past, requiring midyear spending cuts.

Justice needs to be able to convince legislators the $58 million will materialize. A budget based only on the hope things will pick up would serve no one, including striking school personnel.

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