We West Virginians have done a reasonably good job of getting our financial house in order after decades of what amounts to malfeasance. But now, we are in danger of drowning in a new sea of debt - because of irresponsible, political actions by the federal government.
For many years Mountain State governors and legislators won favor with public sector employees by promising them excellent retirement benefits, including pension checks and health insurance. That built up billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities.
Beginning with former Gov. Gaston Caperton, the state began paying down those liabilities. Now, pension and retiree benefit costs are being brought under control. Our state officials have stopped buying votes, in effect, by plunging taxpayers into debt.
That lesson has not been learned in Washington.
On Thursday, during a discussion of budget issues facing the state, an example of the problem was outlined. Rob Alsop, chief of staff to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said costs for the state's Medicaid program willl increase by about $200 million next year, just to maintain current benefit levels for low-income West Virginians.
Medicaid is funded partly by states and partly by the federal government. Though states must bear large shares of the burden, they have little control over what health care benefits are provided and to whom they are offered. The program pleases low-income Americans and no doubt gains votes for presidents and members of Congress who support it - and back increasing benefits and eligibility for Medicaid.
That brings us back to what Alsop said. He stressed the $200 million increase is for current benefits and existing Medicaid clients. No one knows how much Medicaid will cost once "Obamacare," the new national health care law, kicks in and 2014. It will require a dramatic increase in the number of people for whom states must provide Medicaid benefits.
At about the same time, state officials expect federal aid for West Virginia's Medicaid program will be reduced.
We simply can't afford it. No state's taxpayers can.
It is clear Obamacare should be repealed. But that ought to be only a first step. States such as ours need more authority to decide what we can and cannot afford to support in terms of public assistance benefits mandated in Washington. Otherwise, all our hard work and sacrifice here in West Virginia will have been for naught.