Using emergency funds should not be an option

An editorial from The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Republican leaders who will take control of the West Virginia Legislature within a few days have said they can balance the state budget without dipping into funds held in reserve for years to cope with emergencies.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said last year that he will propose using about $100 million from the “rainy day” fund to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

To his credit, Tomblin has worked hard to keep spending in check, using methods such as hiring and budget request freezes.

But pulling money out of the emergency accounts, which contain nearly $1 billion, should be avoided. Doing so would, in addition to drawing down money West Virginia may need in a major fiscal emergency, have other undesirable effects. For one, it could result in the state’s bond rating being downgraded.

Still, cutting the cost of government by $100 million to avoid all that sounds intimidating at first glance.

Perhaps not. While many Mountain State companies have been reducing employment to make ends meet, state government’s payroll has increased. According to one published report, the state has 1,784 more full-time employees than it did five years ago. A total of 37,706 people are listed as full-time workers.

A key question West Virginians ought to be asking is: Is state government providing 1,784 employees’ worth of better services than it did five years ago? We suspect many people would answer in the negative.

Republicans’ proposal is not about bashing state government or those who work for it. It is about living within our means. Both GOP and Democrat legislators should be eager to find ways for state government to do that.

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