An important bill in the West Virginia Legislature probably does not stand a chance of being enacted - but lawmakers ought to look at it closely. It calls for action our state may have to take, like it or not.
A glance at the bill's unofficial title - the Tea Party Act - both tells its story in a few words and shows why it has no chance of passage.
Modeled after recommendations often heard in gatherings of fiscally conservative "Tea Party" organizations, the bill aims at taking a huge bite out of state government spending. How big? Try $1 billion.
That appears to be a lot of money, given that the state's general fund budget is only about $4 billion. But as proponents of the bill point out, the general fund is just part of total spending by state government, which is in the $20 billion a year range.
Sponsors of the bill say there are plenty of places to cut spending drastically. The state Department of Education was cited by one sponsor, Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer.
In Charleston alone, the state Department of Education has 627 employees, Gearheart noted. "That's a lot of folks that do essentially no more than implement education policy," he pointed out.
"Tea Party" ideas usually are not popular in government. Given the fact West Virginia's Legislature is dominated by Democrats, that probably is true here.
Many lawmakers may not like the Tea Party Act because they believe they have been fiscally conservative for years. It is true our state's balanced budget has been the envy of most other states during recent years. Both governors and lawmakers during the past several years deserve credit for that.
Unfortunately, the cost of state government is rising - in large measure because of federal mandates such as those in the national health care law. To balance budgets in the future, state officials may have to choose between slashing programs and increasing taxes.
Clearly, the latter strategy will not - and should not - be popular. For that reason, legislators who may reject the Tea Party Act this winter should not merely shelve it. The sooner they begin looking for places to make substantial cuts in state spending, the better.