Interpret Budget News Cautiously

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice may have been as surprised as anyone to find out he was close to the mark a few months back when he predicted increasing revenue — an extra $58 million — would be available for the 2018-19 budget. But, true to form, he came around to an I-knew-it-all-along strategy:

“People called (the $58 million revenue projection) hocus pocus,” Justice said during a news conference last week. “We may very well have the hocus pocus money before we even get to the (new) fiscal year.”

Well, maybe. State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy reported during the same news conference the Mountain State will end the fiscal year with a $30 million surplus. He acknowledged it could be more, throwing out a high number of $50 million.

Even someone used to dealing with dollar amounts such as the ones Justice sees daily can understand $30 million (with a potential to reach $50 million) is not $58 million.

But, back-patting aside, Hardy’s news is welcomed; and Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow suggests increases in severance tax and income tax collections are a sign our economy could be recovering.

Hardy went so far as to say, “This is not a blip. This is a pattern.”

Lawmakers were right to use the most conservative revenue collection estimates available in balancing the state budget. No one should count on money they only hope will materialize.

In fact, now that officials are confident there will be an extra $30 million in the coffers, it may be a good time to remember our state’s Rainy Day Fund is $29 million lighter after a transfer to ensure there would be no immediate changes to the Public Employee Insurance Agency.

Hardy’s news is good, and West Virginians will eagerly watch for confirmation he is correct that it is not a blip. Meanwhile, lawmakers who have been on this roller coaster one too many times will likely wait another few years before singing “We’re In The Money.”

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