From the Hampshire Review:
We realize that calling for bipartisanship and tough choices in an election year has about as much chance of succeeding as Jeb Bush in South Carolina, but still we must try.
West Virginia has to close a $350 million gap in the budget for this fiscal year — that’s the one we’re 8 months into — and it must figure out a way to produce a balanced budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Right now the budget projections for 2016-17 are about $450 million out of kilter.
We all know the only way to balance a budget is cut spending or increase revenue. In government “raising revenue” means new taxes or fees, and that’s something nobody ever wants imposed.
On the other hand, the cuts that are being considered scare us. Remember, West Virginia has been whittling its budget for a couple of years as revenue from the coal severance (particularly) has dried up and the economy has struggled along.
And yes, there’s something to be said for trimming the fat from a budget. But when the fat’s gone, you begin cutting into muscle and bone and vital organs. West Virginia has already trimmed 7.5 percent in each of the last 2 years and the governor ordered another 4-percent midyear cut this year.
Now the Legislature is considering an additional 6.5-percent cut. A couple of the consequences are really worrisome.
First, the State Police would have to lay off 87 state troopers, along with 5 forensic analysts, 2 evidence technicians and 3 support staff from the State Police forensic laboratory. Eight State Police detachments would be closed, including one in Berkeley Springs.
Our overworked and underpaid forensics lab already can’t keep up with the demands placed on it. Cutting there will just drive up jail costs as trials are delayed longer and longer waiting for crucial evidence.
And does anyone really want fewer state police on the roads?
Second, another $71.5 million in state aid to schools would disappear. Hampshire County would be forced to eliminate even more positions. Is that what we need? We want our schools to succeed, not fail.
Other cuts that House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, lists include 166 jobs at state hospitals and 350 at colleges, fewer and cheaper Promise Scholarships, and closures of some state parks and correctional facilities.
It seems to us that cutting state government to this extent begins to truly do harm, particularly to public safety and education.
It also appears that the Legislature is taking the easy route on cuts — whack everybody the same rather than make value judgments on what needs to be left alone, what needs more money and what needs less, if not downright elimination.
Politicians may be elected on campaign promises and the backing of motivated interests, but at the end of the day their job is to govern, to make the state work in the best interests of all its citizens.
All the right-to-work back-and-forth, all the fuss over concealed carry, all the hubbub around religious freedom and discrimination are issues with lots of campaign appeal, but they need to take a back seat this year to figuring out how to provide fundamental government service to the governed.
Our Legislature needs to work together to find the right balance of spending cuts and revenue increases to make state government work, not just for the coming year, but the long haul.
Is it asking too much to put election politics aside and get it done?