Caution: Lawmakers must be wary of revenue numbers

With less than a week remaining in their regular session, West Virginia lawmakers must decide whether they believe money will continue to pour in to the state treasury.

Let us hope it will. Otherwise, at about this time next year, bad things could happen in Charleston.

A variety of important issues remain to be solved by lawmakers this week. At the top of the list is approving a state budget for the year that begins July 1.

General revenue funds envisioned in the state Senate, House of Delegates and Gov. Jim Justice’s office differ in significant ways. But in one aspect, spending much more than this year, they are very much alike.

At last report, the House budget totaled $4.60 billion, the Senate’s $4.66 billion and the governor’s, $4.75 billion. The proposals range from $228 million to $295 million more than the current budget.

Within a day or two, the public will get access to the report on how much revenue the state received in February, two-thirds of the way through the current fiscal year. Justice and legislators probably have the information already.

What that report shows will provide some guidance to lawmakers attempting to forecast whether the state will take in enough money to cover general revenue spending authorized by the budget being debated now.

Analysts forecast the state will close this fiscal year with a surplus of about $300 million. If that level of revenue continues next year, it would be enough to cover the governor’s budget request.

But lawmakers have been warned the bump in revenue this year, $295 million more than had been expected at the end of January, may not persist. Much of the unforeseen income this year has been because of pipeline and road construction projects that will not continue in FY 2020.

The watchword this year, then, needs to be caution. Mountain State residents are all-too-familiar with what happens when revenue fails to meet budget numbers: midyear spending cuts. Legislators should not risk that happening again.