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Editorial: Trying Again On W.Va. Budget

From the Wheeling News-Register:

There was plenty wrong with the state budget proposal West Virginia legislators sent to Gov. Jim Justice. Lawmakers’ refusal to increase taxes to make government even bigger was not among the flaws, however.

Justice does not see it that way. On Thursday, he vetoed the budget bill. That means legislators will have to return to Charleston to try again.

Their options are to override the veto and send the same plan back to Justice, bow to his browbeating and increase taxes — or refine their own proposal.

In effect, Justice is telling Mountain State families and businesses that while we have to live within our means, it is unfair to ask government to do the same. He wants lawmakers to approve a $4.394 billion general revenue fund budget.

That would require at least $224 million in new taxes. That works out to an average of nearly $500 a year for a family of four living in our state.

Budgeting for state government is an extremely complex endeavor. But politicians too often add smoke and mirrors to the process to mislead the public.

For example, consider claims that the Legislature’s $4.102 billion proposal represents a spending cut of $160 million. It just isn’t true.

Do the math:

The general revenue budget on the books for this year is $4.187 billion. But — and it is this “but” the big spenders want you to ignore — former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered $59 million in midyear spending cuts last fall.

That takes actual spending for the current year down to $4.128 billion. That means the Legislature’s $4.102 billion plan represents a cut of only $26 million, not $160 million.

Maintaining the $4.102 billion as their target would not be inappropriate for lawmakers, though some changes are needed in how they get to that figure.

One concern is the $90 million legislators plan to take from the emergency Rainy Day Fund. That could be reduced substantially by holding some agencies to current-year spending levels rather than giving them increases. It also could provide revenue to avoid cuts for some important programs that are slated for very real reductions in the Legislature’s proposal.

No doubt the governor views his veto as an ultimatum to the Legislature: Go along with my plan, or else.

In very real terms, however, it is an ultimatum to hard-working, often struggling West Virginians: Send more to Charleston, or else.

That is unacceptable.

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