Some West Virginia legislators seem to have decided already that they have no option but to increase taxes if they are to balance the state budget.
But the very revenue reports they point to in support of that contention are evidence West Virginians are struggling, many of them more than state government.
It has been pointed out that lagging revenue is to blame for budget woes. Of particular concern has been the severance tax.
After the first five months of the fiscal year, that tax had brought in about $13.4 million less than had been budgeted. But even worse performances were turned in by the personal income tax, at $43.6 million below estimates, and the sales tax, at $36.2 million under projections. Those are broad indicators of how the state’s economy — West Virginia families and businesses — are doing.
Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss already has told legislators to expect a $400 million gap between projected spending and expected revenue for the coming fiscal year. That has led some to throw up their hands and decide it is impossible to reduce more state spending. Tax increases, possibly disguised as measures to “eliminate exemptions” from current taxes, are being considered.
To his enormous credit, Gov.-elect Jim Justice is just saying no. “I don’t think there is any way in the world that you can raise taxes on our people,” he told a reporter.
State Senate President-elect Mitch Carmichael agrees. “The people of West Virginia are struggling financially and cannot endure additional tax burdens to prop up government. Just as each family is faced with difficult financial choices when money is scarce, our state government must do the same,” added Carmichael, R- Jackson.
Government provides a variety of essential services, of course. All Mountain State residents depend on them, to greater or lesser extents.
But before considering tax increases, Justice and lawmakers simply must prioritize spending and ensure that every possible efficiency has been achieved in government.
It is a classic chicken-and-egg question: Whose welfare comes first? State government’s — or that of the people it is supposed to be serving
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