Plans are proceeding to increase taxes by $316 million a year in West Virginia. That will do nothing to close a $466 million hole in next year’s state budget, however.
Relying solely on even higher taxes to deal with that shortfall would mean taking nearly $800 million more a year out of our pockets. West Virginians simply can’t handle that.
There has been talk of reductions in state spending – but once government agencies start waving the inevitable red flags about that, the discussions seem to end. Cut state spending substantially? Horrors!
Erasing the deficit by reducing the size of government would take about 11 percent out of the $4.3 billion general revenue spending plan proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Many West Virginians may reflect that such a cutback would not be pleasant – but it is achievable. How many Mountain State families have had to make similar changes in their own household budgets, perhaps because of job loss, unexpected financial crises, or higher costs for health care, food – or government?
We probably will be sending more to Charleston next year. State senators already have approved an increase of $316 million annually, to fund road and bridge maintenance and improvements. It would require increasing the sales tax to 7 percent, among other changes.
While there has been a laudable reluctance among many lawmakers to avoid tax increases, the budget has to be balanced – and major spending cuts ought to be the most appealing option.
But asked to gauge the impact of substantial spending cuts, state agencies earlier this year released a list of sky-is-falling warnings. Cuts in state aid to schools could force 14 county systems into deficits, they said. Four-year colleges and universities would lose 350 staff and have to increase tuition and fees. Eighty-seven state troopers would be laid off.
The list went on and on. The message to legislators was obvious: Cut spending during an election year, and you’ll be sorry.
There are budget items that cannot be cut, of course. There are some – health insurance costs, for example – that will go up and are beyond state officials’ control. But before they even think about boosting taxes by $800 million a year, legislators at least ought to be insisting on substantial cuts in the cost of government – with some of them occurring in Charleston instead of out in the hinterlands, as seemed to be what the agencies proposed initially.
Again, many West Virginians have found themselves in tight financial spots, too. They have found ways to reduce spending. They had no choice – because they could not rely on tax hikes.
Perhaps state officials should ask themselves why it is they seem unable to do what so many West Virginians have had to do.