Spending: Lawmakers need to make real cuts
West Virginia legislators pulled off something of a fiscal feat this week. They managed to provide a 5 percent pay raise for state employees without a tax increase and without wrecking the state budget — this fiscal year, anyway.
A 5 percent salary increase for all state employees costs real money, around $110 million a year. From where, exactly, will the funds come?
Some legislators were talking Tuesday of “spending cuts” to fund the pay raises. Plans so far include almost no actual cuts. They are, instead, canceling initial plans for new spending, and lots of moving money around.
Among initiatives to be cut are a $20 million plan to market the state to tourists, a $7 million project to provide free tuition at community and technical colleges, and some new spending by the Department of Commerce. In addition, some maintenance at state-owned buildings will be deferred.
Weeks ago, before the strike, Gov. Jim Justice submitted a proposed General Revenue Fund budget for the coming year. It totals $4.352 billion, about $127 million more than the current spending plan.
Then last week, the governor assured everyone his initial estimate of revenue that would be collected could be increased by $58 million. That would have taken his recommended budget to more than $4.4 billion.
Legislators were wise not to accept that $58 million promise. They took a different route, of approving the pay raises within the original $4.352 billion estimate. But that still leaves next year’s budget $127 million higher than this one.
Where are the real spending cuts? There have been few suggestions, except for deferred maintenance, of such a thing.
And deferring needed maintenance on state buildings is not cutting the grotesque waste and inefficiency out of government.
Legislators and Justice need to stop kowtowing to the bureaucracy — and sometimes to their own self political interests — and talk about genuine spending cuts.