State Government Must Live Within Its Means

After nearly two weeks of grizzlies, goading, and a nonstop, taxpayer-funded road show, it looks time has run out on Governor Justice’s countdown clock.

Last Monday, Republican leadership presented the framework for how the Legislature plans to balance the state’s budget this year, and it’s apparently a pretty shocking concept: Spend only the money you bring in, and not more. Based on the governor’s own initial revenue estimates, the state will bring in $4.055 billion — which is $450 million less than the budget that Governor Justice demanded.

So how does the governor plan to make up that gap? By asking every household in West Virginia to pay about $607 more in taxes per year. He’s coming to the living rooms of the families in the poorest state in the nation with his hand out, and asking for more. That’s not right. There’s a better way, and that’s what my fellow senators and delegates rolled out last week.

West Virginia families saw incomes slashed, jobs lost, and opportunities missed over the last several years. The reality is that our economy is damaged, and our people are hurting. There is simply no way we can go to the taxpayers of this state and ask for more. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for this governor to propose a budget that increases spending by so much. Rather than base a budget around what government wants to spend, the Legislature plans to base one around what we will believe we will realistically have to spend — that’s a concept that hundreds of West Virginia families embrace every single day.

You would think that concept would also resonate with our governor. It clearly didn’t. He released a statement reacting to our budget framework saying, “Bless their hearts,” and listed every reason in the book why our plan wouldn’t work. However, what Governor Justice said in his dismissing of our plan — without expressly saying the words — was, “I don’t like their plan because it doesn’t raise taxes.” Make no mistake about it. That’s what he’s saying. Rather than entertain that perhaps West Virginia’s government has grown just a little oversized for its needs, he’s come up with 450 million new reasons to make it bigger, and you’re going to pay for every one single of them.

Last week alone, the governor spent four straight days — at your expense — traveling around to tell anybody who showed up to listen that he “didn’t create this mess,” but he can fix it. The Legislature was in Charleston rolling out our plan. In Wheeling on Tuesday, he again showed his frustration with a group of people standing up to his strong-arm tactics by calling us “baby snowflakes,” and actually said, “Tomorrow, let’s get in a room and dedicate five hours a day to pass a budget. Let’s work through every single point, and let’s get there. Let’s quit being babies. This is serious stuff and it impacts everybody’s lives in this state.”

Sounds great, but he was in Huntington “tomorrow.” And Charles Town the day after that. In fact, he’s in the Capitol so rarely, he’d not have a really solid idea how long anybody in the Legislature is working on a budget. We don’t show up for press conferences and leave. There’s real work to be done, and very tough choices to be made in the coming days, and we will not run away from either of those.

I believe we are at a critical crossroads. This governor believes the one and only solution to this budget crisis is his “Save Our State” Plan. The Republican leadership of the Legislature doesn’t believe you save a state by forcing the biggest tax increase in its history upon it. Asking our citizens to fund new government spending is not the approach people want, and it is certainly not what they voted for when they elected this Legislature to take our state in a new direction. We promised to get government spending under control, and it’s a promise we intend to keep.

Ferns is majority leader of the West Virginia State Senate. He represents the First Senate District. A licensed physical therapist, he is owner of The Ryan Ferns Healthplex Inc. in Benwood.