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Editorial: Either way, tax increases/budget cuts are going to hurt

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Daily Mail page:

For fiscal year 2017, like previous years, the state of West Virginia is in bad financial shape.

Using current revenue projections and current levels of spending, West Virginia is expected to be about $500 million short of funds next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Gov. Jim Justice proposed a budget to the Legislature that calls for cutting just $26.6 million in spending, while increasing taxes or adding new taxes on consumer sales, business gross receipts and professional services, as well as more than doubling turnpike tolls and increasing Division of Motor Vehicles fees.

Republican legislators, in turn, proposed a budget framework earlier this week, calling for the state to spend only the amount of money that the state brings in — which, for some reason, seems to be a novel approach in West Virginia.

Other than agreeing to the governor’s proposed increase in the beer barrel tax and the wholesale liquor markup, the Republican legislative framework calls for no tax or fee increases.

Adopting either budget proposal — or, more likely, a combination of the two — will mean tight times for West Virginians. Budget cuts will cause some pain as programs many West Virginians enjoy, depend on and love will be cut or possibly eliminated.

It’s likely there won’t be as much money for universities and colleges. There won’t be as much money for K-12 education spending. There won’t be as much money for public broadcasting — a favorite item of many.

The list of programs that will be cut could go on, as could the arguments for fully funding each program. After all, each spending program was started with good intentions.

Understand, it’s not callousness driving the demand for budget cuts, but reality. West Virginia is struggling due to a combination of over-reliance on boom-and-bust natural resource industries, bad policies that restricted business growth and discouraged economic diversification, over-regulation at the state and federal level, poor planning for the future and plenty of bad luck.

Thousands of citizens and businesses have showed their opinion of the state’s situation over the years simply by moving to other states where opportunities are better.

But passing tax increases, as Justice’s proposal calls for, also will cause hurts and cuts — just not necessarily in state government. Struggling businesses that are marginally profitable will have to pay more in taxes and fees. Struggling families barely making ends meet will have to pay more.

Everybody will pay more, giving them less money to spend in our state. Some will be that much more enticed to seek better opportunities in other states.

It’s foolish and unrealistic to believe that state government can continually increase in size while the state’s population and revenue base shrinks. Tax increases may not cut a popular state program, but they will cut citizens’ and businesses’ own spending.

The governor and legislators are genuinely trying to solve the state’s problems by doing what they believe is best for the citizens and the state. They simply have differing views on how to get it done.

Citizens with ideas or opinions on particular proposals should reach out to their delegates or senators — in a positive way. They are getting enough grief from others.

For better or worse, thankfully, there is a group of dedicated people working to move the state along. Let’s just hope it turns out for the better.

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