Time to pick up the pace on WV budget work

The Herald-Dispatch editorial

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle knew West Virginia’s 2017 legislative session would be difficult.

State government faces a $100 million budget deficit in the current year’s budget that will almost certainly require a healthy withdrawal from the state’s dwindling “rainy day fund.” Even more daunting is the $500 million deficit in next year’s budget.

Yet, several weeks into the session, the work on the budget seems to be moving at its typical pace – slow. Last week, Gov. Jim Justice installed a new “countdown clock” in the Capitol building and on his web page, as a not-so-subtle reminder to lawmakers about the urgency.

The governor also has been touring the state, trying to build support for his plan for new taxes to fund state government. That included a visit to Barboursville Monday, and other local press conferences showing the impact severe cuts would have.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been considering a dramatic tax reform plan that would add taxes and gradually reduce the state income tax. It’s not clear how the plan would affect the current budget crisis, and a fiscal review calls into question whether the reform would produce the future revenue needed.

With a Democratic governor and a Republican controlled legislature, it is not surprising that there widely differing approaches. But that means it is going to take more time to negotiate a clear plan that the public supports and understands.

For many years, the Senate and House versions of the budget bill would come together in the last week of the session and with final adjustments made in a short extended session. Last year, that approach resulted in an extra session that lasted until June, and this year the task is even more complex.

The budget clock is ticking.

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