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Editorial: W.Va. budget compromise lacks vision

From the Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg:

The Legislature completed a budget at about 10 p.m. Friday, ending months of debate on how to balance the state’s books. The budget bill now goes to Gov. Jim Justice for action, where he is expected to sign it, according to administration insiders.

Not because the budget bill is anything to brag about. It does little to help move our state forward or give teachers a long-overdue 2 percent pay raise.

Nor does it provide funding to invest in the Commerce Department’s efforts to attract new jobs and promote our state’s tourism industry as proposed by the governor’s “Save Our State” fund.

 Sadly, the completed budget includes a 2.6 percent funding cut to higher education throughout the state, which amounts to about $7 million total. Marshall University and West Virginia University see 4.6 percent funding cuts in this plan.

It seems extremely counter-productive to continue to cut higher-education funding when WVU and Marshall are two of the leading economic drivers in the state. A recent study indicated that for every dollar invested in WVU, the school returned $17 to the economy in West Virginia.

Considering the ratio of in-state students at the other four-year colleges and the community and technical colleges, it would seem that the Legislature has balanced the budget on the backs of those students and their parents, who likely will be faced with another round of tuition increases.

Fortunately, both the House and Senate did pass two separate bills funding much-needed infrastructure investment — Senate Bill 1003, relating to the West Virginia Parkways Authority and tolls, and Senate Bill 1006, increasing funding for the State Road Fund.

The House and Senate compromised on spending cuts to come up with a $4.225 billion budget that looks a lot like the one the full House of Delegates passed Wednesday. When the House of Delegates refused a tax reform bill, the Senate reworked the spending cuts at a level most lawmakers could accept.

Medicaid is funded entirely in the completed budget, relying on $41 million in general revenue spending, $15 million in lottery surplus money and $15 million in excess lottery funds — which is a good thing considering the negative impact that such cuts would have had on those state residents who are most vulnerable at this time.

As reported by The State Journal, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, told senators the budget didn’t make the state “look, in my opinion, healthy yet” to bond agencies, but he pointed out it does not take any funds from the rainy day fund

Hall said the reality of the budget process was that legislators were days away from what they had been told were drop-dead dates for a government shutdown.

“I think what we’re doing is responding to what the House sent us,” Hall said. “All I can say is this is a balanced budget. It is constitutional. Maybe it’s tight and uses one-time money, but it’s constitutional.”

State taxpayers must feel exasperated that for the past two years the Legislature had to go into extended special sessions to pass “bare-bones” budget bills that accomplished very little to address the state’s finances or economy.

Considering that the Republicans have had veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate for three years now and can’t agree on an agenda to address the state’s greatest issues, it’s disappointing.

“I can’t support this,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said before the Friday night’s budget bill vote. “This is a terrible budget, and we know this is the third year in a row we’re going to kick the can down the road.”

You have to give Gov. Justice credit for attempting time and again to adjust several budget proposals in an effort to find a compromise that would pass both the House and the Senate.

West Virginia residents deserve better results from our elected officials. True leadership involves finding common ground and compromising, with both sides willing to give in order to promote the greater good for the people of West Virginia.

Our future and the future of our children and grandchildren depend upon it. Voters will have the final judgment, and their voices will be heard at the polls.

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