Revenue ideas should be front and center

An editorial from The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Now that the fall interim legislative sessions have run their course in Charleston and the fall campaign is up and running, we know this: The state is going to have to find revenues to prop up government spending, continue to cut away with a chain saw or find a balanced approach that does little damage to essential services.

Goal No. 1 is to balance the budget, of course, but to do so in a way that invests more in education and economic development.

Candidates for political office need to be questioned about what answers they have on budgetary matters and positioning our state to build the state’s economy. We don’t care about party affiliation, whether a candidate is a Democrat or a Republican, we simply want to know what they would do to solve deep and troubling issues and a budget that annually is out of whack.

 In the education piece of budget pie, let’s be honest: Investments in our state’s four-year colleges have been cut to the point that our “state schools” are that in name only. A more appropriate moniker would be “state located colleges.”

And yet we know that improving our collective education will help improve our “human capital,” but will also grow our economy.

This is not going to be easy and the new members of the Senate and House of Delegates are going to have to come away from their ideological corners, find political courage, engage in some creative thinking, find compromise across the aisle and resist the easy answer of ordering up broad and damaging cuts.

Can programs and state services be trimmed? Perhaps. But we need answers on the revenue side of the equation first and foremost. And politically, that will be tough.

But there are answers.

We think it’s time to take a serious look at the marijuana industry in this state. More than two dozen states have passed some form of legal marijuana legislation – either retail or medical pot. So this would not be a precedent.

We also think the state needs to consider a progressive income tax where – yes – the rich share more of the burden.

West Virginia has not changed its personal income tax schedule since 1987 when the state’s top personal income rate was trimmed from 13 percent to 6.5 percent.

We could even take a look at scaling back personal tax exemptions as incomes rise.

 And why not ask more of those who are best positioned financially? This past spring, the legislature did just the opposite, passing a cigarette tax in the eleventh hour that hits lower-income earners harder than the rich. And when the state cuts services, those services are usually for the poor.

So, yes, those who are the most economically challenged got tagged with a double whammy.

Another thought: Enacting a higher severance tax on natural gas produced in the state – most of which flows out of state – could produce a small windfall.

Here’s the bottom line: There are answers – those mentioned here among others. They all deserve consideration.

Above all, our state legislators and a new governor need to extend all efforts on this monumental challenge and keep divisive social legislation off the table. (Yes, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, we are looking at you.)

The only thing that’s at stake is our economic future.

See more from The Register-Herald. 

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