Real Spending Cuts Are Absent

Give West Virginia legislators credit for pulling off something of a fiscal feat on Monday and Tuesday. They managed to provide a 5 percent pay raise for state employees without a tax increase and without wrecking the state budget.

A 5 percent salary increase for all state employees costs real money, around $110 million a year. From where, exactly, will the funds come?

Some legislators were talking Tuesday of “spending cuts” to fund the pay raises. With rare exceptions, plans we have heard are no such thing. They are, instead, canceling initial plans for new spending.

Among initiatives to be cut are a $20 million plan to market the state to tourists, a $7 million project to provide free tuition at community and technical colleges, and some new spending by the Department of Commerce. In addition, some maintenance at state-owned buildings will be deferred.

Weeks ago, before the strike, Gov. Jim Justice submitted a proposed General Revenue Fund budget for the coming year. It totals $4.352 billion, about $127 million more than the current spending plan.

Then last week, the governor assured everyone his initial estimate of revenue that would be collected could be increased by $58 million. That would have taken his recommended budget to more than $4.4 billion.

Legislators were wise not to accept that $58 million promise. They took a different route, of approving the pay raises within the original $4.352 billion estimate.

That was prudent. But it still leaves next year’s budget $127 million higher than this one.

Where are the real spending cuts? We have heard few suggestions, except for deferred maintenance, of such a thing.

And deferring needed maintenance on state buildings is not cutting the waste and inefficiency out of government.

Legislators and Justice need to stop kowtowing to the bureaucracy — and sometimes to their own self political interests — and talk about genuine spending cuts.