Fiscal Caution May Be Prudent
What a strange time it is in West Virginia politics. Suddenly, Republicans — normally the fiscally cautious party — are promising new spending initiatives. Meanwhile, Democrats — often viewed as the big spenders — are suggesting restraint.
Last week, Gov. Jim Justice reported that during the first three months of the fiscal year, the general revenue fund took in $119 million more than had been expected.
Easy come, easy go. Justice promptly said he will urge the Legislature to increase the normal appropriation for the Public Employees Insurance Agency by $100 million.
He wasn’t finished. He also will seek another 5 percent pay raise for public school teachers, the governor said. State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he “can guarantee that this will occur” next winter.
Assuming the 5 percent raise goes to teachers, school service personnel and other state employees, the cost will be about $82 million a year.
Later in the week, Justice said he expects the state will end the current fiscal year with a general revenue fund surplus of $300 million.
As House of Delegates Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, pointed out, state law requires a substantial portion of any budget surplus to go into the “Rainy Day Fund,” set aside for emergencies. After covering that, the PEIA increase and the pay raises, Justice and lawmakers may have little left over.
And, as Miley added, Justice’s announcements are based on a surplus during the first three months of the fiscal year. Things could change between now and June 30, 2019.
Finally, as the minority leader noted, legislators have many other worthwhile proposals for using any fiscal windfalls.
Tax relief and road repairs come immediately to mind.
Good for Miley for adopting a fiscally cautious attitude. Here’s hoping Justice and the Republican majority in the Legislature are not spending their chickens before they’re hatched.