Stay Focused: Legislators must cut spending

During Wednesday evening’s State of the State Address, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice displayed his usual flare for political theater, complete with bringing his high school girls’ basketball team out onto the floor and suggesting that the rest of us, like those student athletes, call him “Coach.”

Most coaches know that when they lose a player, they need to find a way to replace that person as part of their team. Justice, however, seems to have little understanding that when revenue is lost — or, rather, spent — it must be either replaced, or the deficit made up in reductions in spending somewhere else.

As part of his address, Justice made reference to a couple of charts, which had been drawn with the assumption that West Virginia will be increasingly in the black over the next few years. As we have pointed out previously, the revenue on which Justice and many lawmakers appear to be counting is not yet guaranteed.

Meanwhile, Justice made a bit of a show of announcing he will ask for “zero” tax increases this year — quite a change from last year’s address. He was, of course, applauded for that, and Mountain State residents are glad to hear it. But it begs the question, how will we pay for all of the rest of Justice’s big ideas? A one percent raise to all state employees; $20 million to tourism; a 13th year of high school … all nice thoughts, but implementing them will cost money.

If the governor and lawmakers are unwilling to seek out new sources of revenue — and, again, given that those sources normally turn out to be the pockets of taxpayers, it is not an unwelcome thought — they MUST find ways to cut unnecessary spending.

The sky did not fall last year as cuts were made, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those who hold the bureaucracy dearer than our great state. But last year’s cuts should be just the start. There is still ample fat to be trimmed in our bloated state government. There is still a desperate need to “right-size” it, as lawmakers were so fond of saying a year ago.

No matter how much money they believe they will have to play with in coming years, it is vital lawmakers not lose focus on turning our government into one that serves West Virginians, rather than itself. The search for ways to stop tossing taxpayers’ money into the shredder must continue.