Numbers are not a license to go on spending spree

Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia legislators have every right to be delighted at state revenue reports from April. The numbers are very gratifying.

They are not a license to go on a spending spree, however. As Mountain State residents have come to know, there is no such thing here.

Two months remain to go in the fiscal year, which ends June 30. What happens during that period will provide more guidance for decision makers.

Income for the general revenue fund during April came in at $53.6 million more than had been projected. That took the fiscal year-to-date total, for 10 months, up to $76.9 million over estimates.

Barring some meltdown in the West Virginia’s economy, that should ensure state government finishes the current fiscal year with a balanced general revenue budget. The numbers also bode well for fiscal 2020.

And it is the economy that shone brightly through the April numbers. By the end of the month, the state had collected $149.9 million in corporate net income taxes — 122 percent of what had been forecast. Business and occupation tax revenue was at 106 percent of what had been predicted. By that standard, businesses in our state seem to be doing well.

West Virginia families are a slightly different story, though still a good one. By the end of April, personal income tax collections had hit $1.740 billion, slightly in excess of predictions.

All this boils down to reason for confidence, though the economy and state government finances can change quickly.

If we can assume the economy will remain on an upward trend, the $4.635 billion general revenue budget on which lawmakers and Justice agreed for fiscal 2020 appears to be realistic.

Legislators are to convene a special session on public schools sometime during the next few weeks. A pay raise for school workers and other public employees already has been built into the fiscal 2020 budget, so it can be enacted — if lawmakers choose.

Any other plans for new spending in public schools will have to be considered cautiously, however.

The bottom line on the budget appears to be that fiscal 2020 spending already approved can be sustained — but going much beyond that could be a challenge.


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