Revenue collections raise red flags

State officials continue to be optimistic in public about the outlook for West Virginia’s budget during the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Let us hope they are right.

March’s report on general revenue fund collections raises red flags. At the end of the month, three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year, revenue was $28.3 million short of forecasts on which the spending plan was based. Budget estimates had called for $2.989 billion to be collected during the first nine months; the actual total was $2.961 billion.

“Typically, you get a spike in the last quarter” of the year, state Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy told a reporter this week. “We expect, with the economy improving, we’ll see an uptick.”

Again, let us hope so. But a particular aspect of the March revenue report should raise concerns about that. Though revenue for much of the year exceeded that for the same period last year, March was different. During the month, $327.6 million was collected, compared to $331.5 million for March 2017.

Revenue shortfalls have been a regular occurrence during the past few years. They forced former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to order state agencies to reduce spending to keep the budget in balance. That is a prospect Gov. Jim Justice and other state officials should consider possible for this year, too.

Justice may have suggested already that agency heads look around for ways to pare their spending just a bit between now and June 30. If not, he should be making that suggestion, just in case.

Revenue collections indeed may pick up during the remainder of the fiscal year. But in government fiscal affairs as in many other aspects of life, it often is best to plan for the worst, even while hoping for the best.