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Editorial: Governor’s ‘fix’ appears broken on arrival

From the Charleston Gazette-Mail / Daily Mail :

Throughout his campaign to be governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice asked voters to trust him.

With his business experience and his many high-level contacts, Jim Justice could turn things around, he said repeatedly during the campaign.

Voters did show trust in the big guy, with 49 percent choosing the Democrat over Republican opponent Bill Cole even though voters overwhelmingly chose Republican candidates for U.S. president, four of six state offices and 63 of 100 House of Delegates races.

On Wednesday night, the governor presented his plan to move West Virginia forward — to get the state past its looming $500 million shortfall.

But the governor’s idea of stepping forward is by stepping back to the same old Democratic playbook used by Gaston Caperton in 1989 and other big-government leaders over the years. Justice’s plan is to maintain the size of government, raise taxes by the bundles and continue to expect West Virginia taxpayers to pay for more government than they can afford.

While declaring that he’s adamantly against tax increases, Justice told the Republican-controlled Legislature that the only way to address a $500 million deficit in the 2017-18 state budget, with as much as a $700 million shortfall the year after, is to temporarily raise taxes — primarily by increasing the consumer sales tax to 6.5 percent and imposing an 0.2 percent gross receipts tax on businesses to raise more than $300 million of $450 million of proposed revenue increases, the Gazette-Mail’s Phil Kabler reported.

Justice said he found it impossible for the state to cut its way out of the budget deficit, instead proposing a mere $26.6 million in spending cuts — about five percent — of the 2017-18 budget shortfall.

For someone who talked about the need to bring in more business, re-installing the old business and occupation tax is not a way to attract businesses and job growth.

State legislative leaders, all Republicans who aren’t generally friendly to big tax increases, expected the governor to come up with substantially more in government downsizing.

“Do I think we can do more than $30 million cuts? Absolutely,” House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, told MetroNews after Justice’s address. “We talked in the neighborhood of $200 million in the special session last year.”

“This was a complete turnaround from that approach that the governor presented [during the campaign] and we are disappointed in that,” Armstead told MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny.

Not that legislative leaders would be adamantly opposed to any revenue enhancements — if the governor had shown discipline and began to substantially cut the size of government first.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he doesn’t disagree with everything Justice said, but he was disappointed in the budget cut and tax increase proposals.

“That’s a tired, worn out, old method of doing things in West Virginia. Rather than fundamentally overhauling government, he just reaches for tax increases,” Carmichael said.

Since the governor has not provided the leadership necessary for West Virginia to crawl out of its budgetary morass, th Legislature will have to.

“As it’s come to us now, rather than the governor showing leadership on this issue, we will lead on this issue,” Carmichael said.

Proposing cuts to state government is never pretty, nor popular. There are practically no government programs that were not established with good reason and intent originally.

But leaders must remember that any tax increase on the state’s residents and businesses is a budget cut for those payers. Jim Justice needs to realize what Republican leaders in the Legislature already know — that the state still has more government than it can afford.

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