Hard choices will have to be made by West Virginia legislators during the coming year, as a result of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's call for 7.5 percent cuts in spending by many state agencies.
Virtually no one likes the idea, but the alternative is simply unacceptable. It is increasing taxes substantially to meet state expenses during the fiscal year that begins next July.
Tomblin exempted a few areas of spending, including public schools and health care programs, from his call for cuts. Now, some of those who will have to make sacrifices are protesting.
State institutions of higher learning are seeking at least some relief from the mandate. As one college president put it, "7.5 percent really cuts into muscle and bone and not fat."
That certainly is true. Given the fixed expenses such as those for employee benefits, insurance, etc., that colleges and universities cannot cut, 7.5 percent reductions will hit them hard.
But granting exemptions to higher education would mean even stiffer cuts in other areas of state government. Earlier this summer, state officials announced new limits on a program to help parents with low and moderate incomes with child care expenses. Some of those changes were rescinded.
Programs such as that would have to be cut drastically - if not eliminated - to grant breaks to higher education.
Fortunately, state agencies have several months to find ways to meet the governor's target. Between now and the time the next state budget is finalized, college and university leaders should press their energies into finding ways to reduce spending while preserving as much educational quality as possible - and avoiding tuition hikes for students.
In addition, Tomblin and legislators should be looking into just how efficiently individual state colleges and universities are spending taxpayers' money. It may be that some should be required to cut spending by more than 7.5 percent.
Unfortunately, however, there is no getting around the problem of not enough state money to fund all agencies, including higher education, at current levels. Like it or not, colleges and universities will have to be part of the solution to balancing the equation.