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Both Budgets Going to Dogs

West Virginia’s state government budget is going to the dogs in more ways than one. Let’s start with a bill in the House of Delegates that would have the effect of wrecking the greyhound racing industry.

That would be accomplished by eliminating a requirement that the two casino/racetracks where the dogs run, at

Wheeling Island and Cross Lanes, stop making payments into a special fund that subsidizes greyhound racing.

So, do the casino/tracks get to keep the money? Of course not. Instead of going to the greyhound racing industry, it would go into a fund state legislators could use to balance the state budget.

That would give lawmakers about $17 million a year.

By coincidence, it’s about the same amount involved in some budget wizardry by Gov. Jim Justice earlier this month.

You’ll recall that for the first six months of fiscal 2020, the state general revenue budget was awash in red ink. By the end of December, revenue actually collected was $33.4 million below estimates.

A miraculous turnaround appeared on the books after January numbers were reported. At the end of that month, we were just $20.4 million below budget estimates.

Not really. On Dec. 31, the general revenue budget was set at $4.71 billion. A month later, the Justice administration had adjusted it downward to $4.69 billion — or $16.5 million less. Had the budget amount not been reduced, the deficit after January would have been nearly $50 million.

Bottom line: Revenue isn’t flowing in any better than it had been. We’ve just reduced the amount of it we expect for the year.

That’s more than paperwork. The original $4.71 billion budget represented money appropriated by lawmakers, to be spent in ways specified in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of line items.

That $16.5 million cut will have to be backed by a like reduction in spending. What will be cut?

Justice’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget is $4.58 billion — $185 million less than the original 2020 spending plan. Clearly, the governor worries the drop-off in collections this year isn’t going to be reversed soon.

All the more reason for legislators to come up with that $17 million in “found money” from killing greyhound racing.

Believe it or not, the general revenue fund is the good news. For the bad news, turn to the $1.32 billion state road fund.

At January’s end, seven months into fiscal 2020, collections for the state road fund were $92.7 million under expectations. At that rate, the fund could be $150 million or more in the red by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

It’s all because federal reimbursements are far under what was budgeted — $99.7 million below, as of Jan. 31.

What on earth is going on, here? Did state officials over-estimate how much Uncle Sam would send us for the state road fund? Or is Washington just a slow payer?

Here’s a hint: At the end of fiscal 2019 last June 30, federal reimbursements were $68.3 million below estimates for the year.

No one in Charleston seems especially concerned about the state road fund. Perhaps they know something I don’t about federal reimbursements. But — refer to the paragraph above — they clearly did not have any special knowledge last year.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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