Finding Money To End Strike

Members of the state Senate Finance Committee were to meet today to start going through the proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Their task is to ensure $58 million will be available to help end the strike by public school employees throughout West Virginia.

Lawmakers speculated the process might take all weekend before the committee could report back to the full Senate.

We can save them some time. They may be looking for the $58 million in the wrong place.

On Tuesday night, Gov. Jim Justice said he had a way out of the standoff between legislators and striking school employees. He revealed he was increasing his administration’s estimate of how much money the state will collect in fiscal 2019. That would provide $58 million no one knew was available previously, and the money could be used to grant a 5 percent pay raise to teachers and school service personnel next year, up from the 2 percent enacted previously.

Because time was short to comply with legislative rules, House of Delegates members approved a 5 percent raise on Wednesday. Their bill went to the Senate, where the logical task of ensuring $58 million really will be available is being tackled.

There, it appears lawmakers are looking at the revenue side of the equation. They should be looking at Justice’s recommendation for spending.

Why worry whether the governor is right about higher collections of revenue when a more prudent strategy would be to reduce state spending in general by $58 million?

Is there anyone in our state — outside the bloated government bureaucracy — who does not think that much money could be pared out of a $4 billion-plus general revenue spending plan?

Here’s where we can save the finance committee some time and get it off to a good start: Senators on the panel should recommend the $5 million Justice has included in his budget for the Courtesy Patrol be eliminated. Then they should move on and find other spending cuts to reach the $58 million goal.

The Courtesy Patrol is an easy target, as we have noted previously. In 2015, the most recent year for which financial information on the program was available, it cost the Beckley-based Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia less than $2.2 million to operate the Courtesy Patrol. Now, the governor wants to provide $5 million.

Providing patrols on a few highways to help stranded motorists — who, in this era of cellphones, probably can get aid themselves — has been a lucrative proposition for CCC Executive Director Robert Martin for many years.

In 2015, he raked in a $360,414 salary from the CCC. His chief operations officer took home $175,651.

Why should taxpayers continue to enrich Martin when we are scrambling for money to pay teachers, bus drivers, state troopers, prison guards and others more? Many of them make less than one-tenth what we paid Martin in 2015.

And if the cursory look at the budget proposal we performed disclosed $5 million in waste for the Courtesy Patrol, how much more is buried in there, just waiting to be found and eliminated?

That has been the problem for many years, of course. Everyone knows the budget is chock-full of wasteful, inefficient and often unnecessary spending. No one ever seems to muster the political courage to do something about it.

Children throughout West Virginia have missed seven days of school, counting today, because of the strike. Some of those involved in the walkout say they just want respect from legislators.

In a way, it is a reasonable demand, given the respect — and riches — showered on Robert Martin for years.