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Limiting W.Va. Budget Vital

If there has been one great survivor of the economic chaos of 2020, it is government. Many towns, cities, counties and states are emerging from the COVID-19 epidemic in much better shape than some officials expected.

West Virginia is no exception. Within a few days, Mountain State residents will learn how the state budget fared during the last six months of the fiscal year, which ended Thursday. Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials already have a good idea of what the report will show.

By the end of November, the numbers looked very, very good — in comparison to what economic slowdowns linked to the epidemic might have produced. At the close of fiscal 2021’s fifth month, income for the general revenue budget totaled $1.937 billion — $131 million more than had been forecast last winter when the governor and legislators adopted the budget.

That picture was distorted, however. It included massive amounts of federal aid, for one thing. For another, tens of millions of dollars in income tax collections were the result of Justice’s order to delay the normal filing date. Some income tax revenue that came in during July would have been received during the previous fiscal year, had the delay not occurred.

Still, in view of the number of business slowdowns and actual shutdowns during the year, the figures are a source of pride for state officials.

No one can say with certainty what will happen during the new year, of course. With the current surge of COVID-19 claiming West Virginia lives by the scores every week, the state’s economy remains in peril.

That should guide Justice and lawmakers in crafting the fiscal 2022 budget, which takes effect July 1.

A spirit of extreme austerity should prevail ­ — except in budget line items related to helping West Virginia families and businesses (see editorial below).

If anything, the governor and legislators should be looking for ways to provide tax reform/relief to Mountain State residents. Many have seen their personal and business bank accounts decimated by the epidemic. Holding down the cost of state government is one way to ease their financial burden, if only a little.

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