Election-year budget talks set to gloss over irreconcilable differences
An editorial from The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appears to be setting up a shotgun budget between Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature.
Of course, the recalcitrant couple feign disinterest in each other, but off the record most of them will tell you, “I do … anything to get re-elected.”
What’s the rush and why are they allowing themselves to be induced into a questionable budget?
It’s an election year, and the May 6 primary is looming large for most of the 117 legislative incumbents among the 134 lawmakers’ seats on the ballot.
As for the arrival of that election-year budget, don’t sweat any tax hikes being part of its delivery.
And how dare anyone suggest raises for public workers are fiscally irresponsible in the next budget year, when the current budget year is already $64 million in the red.
So what if the state needs to dip into its emergency reserves to cover those $1,000 raises for teachers and that 2 percent pay hike for service personnel?
After all, they’re voters, too, aren’t they?
You might expect that kind of giddy rationale from actual newlyweds, but these lawmakers are the stewards of our state’s public funds.
Yet this week, virtually all of them have one eye on putting this election-year budget to bed and the other on renewing their vows to public office next year.
During the regular legislative session, the Senate president did endorse one plan to boost the state’s cigarette tax by $1, to $1.55.
However, that initiative went up in smoke as few, if any, legislators were willing to raise taxes in an election year.
By the way, the Senate president is one of the 17 state senators not up for election this year.
Such efforts, including mention of raising the state sales tax 1 percent or other levies, never got to the altar.
However, no one appears to be bashful about dipping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund to provide teacher raises and to cover budget shortfalls.
Tomblin and the House have already tied the knot on about $83.8 million in reserves to balance the budget.
The state Senate has said it’s willing to deliver $125 million of that fund to patch holes in the budget.
Meanwhile, state leaders got cold feet about using this emergency fund for actual emergencies.
For instance, the governor put requests on the shelf without reservations for $10 million to conduct long-term testing of households, whose tap water was contaminated in January by a chemical spill.
Only a handful of legislators actually objected.
So where’s the love?
Save your tears. Most legislators still had a soft spot for a $2.5 million tax break for The Greenbrier resort.