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Editorial: Higher taxes a must to fix budget, state

From the Register-Herald of Beckley:

Now that a feckless state budget bill has been vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice and irresponsible and cowardly budget builders in the House and Senate have been exposed, we hope that everyone involved in the process takes a break, reflects on the state of our state and then comes back to the capitol to build a budget that enriches K-12 and higher education, keeps its hand out of the Rainy Day Fund, supports a more aggressive marketing strategy for our beautiful state and realign personal income tax structures to a more progressive posture.

And, yes, let’s get this one out of the way first: Taxes must be raised.

At a time when falling state revenues have left state coffers with a projected $500-million deficit next year and an even more daunting $700 million the year after, political dogma from the tight-fisted right must be checked at the door.

Our revenue problems would only be exacerbated by the hacking and blood letting called for in the Republican budget bill – with higher education and Medicaid suffering the beating and showing the darkest, deepest bruises as a result of political posturing.

Who gets hurt the most when the state pulls back on health care and social services? Who loses access to a quality education when academic programs are shelved and tuitions rise for the lack of state funding? Lower income families and those living on a fixed income, of course. Vulnerable populations.

Where is the budget courage in tossing those neighbors to the curb?

When politicians say they want to “right-size the government,” we can only wonder what kind of state they imagine ten years out.

As it is, young people are fleeing our state for opportunities elsewhere, teachers are crossing rivers, bridges and borders for better benefits, higher pay and school facilities that are not collapsing around them. The state’s population is shrinking and growing older and the labor participation rate is the worst in the country.

We should aspire to be something better, something more than what we are, certainly, especially given the sad statistics that have West Virginia wearing the scarlet letter for most every category that measures economic and social well being.

We have advocated for a more progressive approach to the personal income taxation. That simply means the state should tax the wealthy a higher rate than what lower and middle-income wage earners pay – because they are better positioned to shoulder the burden.

Yes, the state should tax cigarettes more and sugary soft drinks anew. Not only would this help fill the budget deficit, it would address health outcomes like obesity, lung disease and diabetes that plague our population.

This state needs to adopt policies and spending that create employment opportunities, attract business and industry and effectively address our collective preparedness to enter the labor force.

We need seed money, in short, to build an economy. And as every successful business person knows, there comes a time when you have to spend money to make money.

What the Senate and House of Delegates cut and pasted together in the final hours of the legislative season wasn’t a plan at all. It was an embarrassment, a mindless mad rush to the finish line, a product of short-sighted politicians who have no vision for what this state could become and are absent any sound ideas on how to stoke the fires of our economy.

Gov. Jim Justice did both the smart thing and the right thing on Thursday afternoon when he vetoed the 2018 budget bill. We share his enthusiasm for what this state could be – and his frustration with lawmakers who can’t get out of the way of their own politics for the sake of the rest of us.


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