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Editorial: What’s the plan? West Virginia’s people deserve good, quick answer

From the Times West Virginian:

West Virginia needs a plan.

Let’s say it even more strongly.

West Virginia’s leaders desperately must come up with a plan to both resolve the state’s budget for the next fiscal year and chart a path toward a better future. 

It’s not enough to continue to agree to disagree.

It’s not responsible to even consider another dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. That would bring even more costs in the future because it would surely lead to another downgrade in the state’s bond rating.

It’s not prudent to avoid looking carefully at spending, but dramatic cuts to the Department of Health and Human Resources — which would also eliminate the state’s eligibility for matching federal funds — and education are a big concern.

It’s not acceptable to push West Virginia toward a deadline at the end of June and a potential government shutdown.

Continued special sessions of the Legislature — at a cost of about $35,000 a day — are not the answer.

That was tried last Thursday and Friday.

Democratic Gov. Jim Justice and the Republican-controlled Senate are in agreement, but that’s not enough. The House killed a tax proposal Friday that would include an increase in the sales tax, commercial activities tax and a phase-out of personal income tax.

After the House voted Thursday to kill the first tax bill, the Senate spent Friday reworking Senate Bill 1004 and overwhelmingly passing it 32-1. Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, was the sole no vote.

Following a brief debate on a motion to send the bill to the Committee on Finance, which ultimately failed, the House rejected the bill on a 59-34 vote.

That led to a decision to adjourn the Legislature until May 15.

“What happened was we did something in a complete bipartisan effort, which was what we ought to do here,” Justice said. “We ought to talk, work together and compromise, work for the better good. We did it and pulled it off almost as unanimously as we could pull it off.”

Justice, in addition to opposition to cuts to DHHR and education, has pushed for teacher pay raises, 48,000 jobs under his roads project and marketing the state.

“This state is in a terrible dilemma,” Justice said. “We’ve got a hole in the bucket like no one’s business. We had an opportunity to fix it and we didn’t. Now, we are in a terrible hole and we need to do something about it.”

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, expressed some optimism about the coming week.

“We’ve had conversations with Senate leadership, and while we don’t agree on this bill, I feel we will find common ground over the next week and I look forward to having that conversation with the Senate and the governor,” Armstead said.

Justice said his office will wait for revenue measures to pass before the budget bill. Armstead said that the Republican caucus believes it should be the other way around.

Resolve that issue and move on. West Virginia is not going to solely cut or spend its way to prosperity,

“What is the plan?” Justice asked during his Friday press conference.

West Virginia’s people deserve an answer during the coming week.

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