Looking Ahead

Gov. Justice should be careful with comments

Gov. Jim Justice, given to using folksy language in some of his public pronouncements, no doubt has heard the warning about counting one’s chickens before they are hatched. Let us hope he and Republican leaders in the Legislature have not done just that.

A few weeks ago, Justice engaged in a bit of “I told you so” rhetoric regarding state government’s fiscal situation. Last spring, he urged lawmakers to go along with his forecast that revenue to fund government would increase this year, buoyed by an improvement in the economy.

He was right. Both the state’s economy and income for the general revenue budget have picked up. The question is, how much?

In October, Justice pointed out that during just the first three months of the fiscal year, general revenue fund income had exceeded predictions by $119 million. There was no reason to expect the upswing would not continue, he said.

That prompted him to suggest the Legislature ought to grant another 5 percent pay raise to state employees, including teachers. That would cost about $80 million a year.

But the governor was not finished. Legislators also ought to increase taxpayers’ contribution to the Public Employees Insurance Agency by $100 million a year, Justice said. That would bring the total contribution to keeping the PEIA afloat to $675 million annually.

Republican leaders in the Legislature were quick to say they saw no problem with the governor’s ideas.

Then the monthly revenue report came out earlier this month. Income for October was less than $2.4 million over projections — quite a slowdown.

Then WorkForce West Virginia reported unemployment rates increased in 39 of the state’s counties last month. Rates were unchanged in 14 counties. That could signal an economic slowdown that would affect state revenue adversely.

In other words, those chickens Justice and some lawmakers were counting just a few weeks ago may not hatch.

For years, we have cautioned about overly optimistic expectations for the state government budget. No doubt some in Charleston consider us to be the “nattering nabobs of negativism” cited by former Vice President Spiro Agnew, who served in that post from 1969-73.

But not making commitments before one is certain they can be kept is simple prudence. Let us hope those suggesting new, big-spending initiatives in state government do not have to come up with explanations why they can’t be done.

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