Justice’s $300M forecast may be low

It is possible — just possible — that Gov. Jim Justice’s forecast of a $300 million surplus in West Virginia’s general revenue budget this year may be low.

Mountain State residents and legislators have learned to be leery of rosy fiscal forecasts, of course. Making long-term commitments based on just a few months of good budget news would be imprudent. It could result in serious trouble a year or two from now.

Still, Justice may not have been engaging in his normal hyperbole last week when he predicted that when the fiscal year ends next June 30, the general revenue fund will have $300 million in the bank.

Revenue for the first three months of the fiscal year in the two largest accounts — personal income tax and consumer sales/use tax — has been exceedingly gratifying. The budget was based on an estimate that at this point in the fiscal year, about $764.5 million would have been taken in.

Actual collections totaled $829.5 million. At that rate, Justice’s $300 million can be made up of revenue from those two accounts alone.

Justice already has suggested $100 million more be used to shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Another $80 million or so would be needed if legislators approve 5 percent pay raises for teachers and other public employees, as the governor has recommended.

What of the remaining $120 million — if the governor’s forecast holds true?

Road and bridge repairs, anyone? If, by the time next spring when a new budget is adopted, “surplus” funds still appear possible, lawmakers certainly ought to consider putting the money into patching potholes and repairing slips that, inevitably, will be worse next year.