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Opinion: Spending plan key component to W.Va. Special Legislative Session

From The Intelligencer of Wheeling:

Low-tax advocates in the West Virginia House of Delegates are not unreasonable men and women. House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, signaled as much Thursday, when he told a reporter a new state budget that “barely increases taxes”might be acceptable.

But the $300 million boost in taxes reportedly included in a bill introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice does not meet the “barely” test.

In a party-line vote of 59-36 on Thursday, delegates rejected a tax bill put together by the governor and leaders in the state Senate. That brought action in the Legislature’s special session to a screeching halt, at least temporarily.

Justice and Senate leaders had agreed to a proposal that would have begun the process of phasing out the state personal income tax. Lost revenue was to be replaced with higher rates for other sources of revenue, including the sales tax.

Advocates of eliminating the income tax make a good point. That could put West Virginia in a good competitive position against other states attempting to lure new residents and businesses.

Increasing taxes under the guise of reform is part of the House’s objection, however.

Missing from the list of four proposals introduced Thursday was a budget bill. There should have been no good reason why one could not have been produced, based on revenue estimates from the tax bill that was voted down.

A budget bill showing, line by line, how much the governor wants to spend for various state programs is a critical piece of the fiscal puzzle. Approving any tax bill provides the governor with a sort of blank check, a certain amount of revenue available for spending.

One cannot blame lawmakers who are leery of setting tax rates without seeing the governor’s plan to spend the money.

As Justice and lawmakers work together — we hope — to craft a new tax bill, they also need to have a spending proposal based on that revenue ready.

Justice seems fond of using analogies. He should consider the old “cart before the horse” one. This is a situation in which the “horse” is tax revenue pulling a “cart” that is spending.

Approving a tax “horse” without knowing the size of the spending “cart” that needs to be pulled would not be prudent.

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