Budget Cuts Only Skin-Deep

Look up the phrase “wailing and gnashing of teeth” and you’ll see a picture of West Virginia legislators. They did a lot of that this year, before approving a budget acceptable to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Remember all the complaints about spending cuts for state agencies? About how terrible things were going to happen?

As approved by lawmakers, the general revenue budget for fiscal 2017, which starts July 1, includes $4,187,373,287 in spending. Let’s round it off to $4.187 billion.

Now, compared to the current year’s budget of $4.305 billion, the FY 2017 plan seems to reflect a spending cut of about $118 million. That’s a 2.7 percent spending cut, right?

Well, as insignificant as a 2.7 percent trim seems, wrong.

Lots of gimmicks including a $51.8 million transfer from the Rainy Day Fund are being used to ensure we don’t end the current fiscal year in the red. But as revenue plummeted earlier this year, Tomblin ordered state agencies to reduce their spending by $94.3 million.

Assuming that actually happened, general revenue fund spending for the current year will be only $4.211 billion, not the $4.305 billion planned in spring of 2015.

Sit down before you do the math on the difference between what we’re actually going to spend this year and what the FY 2017 budget calls for next year.

It’s just $24 million. In other words, the actual spending cut included in the FY 2017 budget is only 0.6 percent.

Given months to plan for it, could you and your family reduce spending by 0.6 percent next year? Of course you could — and for most people, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult. You might have to give up a few luxuries, but chances are you wouldn’t be required to spend a dime less on necessities.

Many Mountain State residents have had to cut spending by far more  during recent years. Some have lost their jobs entirely. Others have had to cope with no pay raises at the same time the cost of living increased.

But not state government. The folks in Charleston lead charmed fiscal lives. That is no accident, of course. Decades of practice in thwarting anyone who tries to get government under control have paid off.

Remember one of the threats about what would happen if substantive spending cuts were demanded? State aid to county school systems would be reduced. After the governor’s midyear spending cut, the state aid account was left with about $1.742 billion for the year. The new budget includes $1.766 billion for the purpose. So the next time you hear a local board of education complaining about state aid cuts, be skeptical (though some will see support cut because their local property tax bases have increased).

The bottom line is that liberal legislators and the bureaucrats have gotten away with it once again. They were so effective in scaring people with “sky is falling” tactics and warnings about a “government shutdown” that most people in Charleston ran from meaningful spending cuts as if a Zika-carrying mosquito was chasing them.

One last note: Often when I write columns on state spending, I hear from people in Charleston telling me either that I just don’t understand or that my numbers are wrong.

Well, my sources include the budget bill approved by the Legislature, available at the website www.legis.wv.us. Click “Bill Status,” then select “Completed Legislation” to find the bill. Information on the current budget came from the state Budget Office, at www.budget.wv.gov. A variety of information on current and past budgets can be found there. Finally, for the governor’s midyear spending cut, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s website at www.wvsos.com. Click “Searchable Databases & Online Services,” then “Executive Records Search,” then “Executive Orders” to see mandates issued by governors for many years.

See for yourself.

As far as “you just don’t understand,” maybe I’ll have to plead guilty. But so will a couple of hundred thousand other West Virginians.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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