State government must learn to live within means

It was no secret that this was going to be a challenging session for the West Virginia Legislature, but following Governor Jim Justice’s State of the State address Wednesday, it became dramatically more difficult.

According to the Constitution of the State of West Virginia, the Governor is given the task of presenting a budget to the Legislature that should provide the direction for the budget during the regular session. There is good reason for this: The bulk of the $4 billion dollar budget is made up of money spent on agencies that fall under the executive branch, or more simply, the Governor’s Office. This is the place where government inefficiency and waste can best be identified. Because the Governor is responsible for managing these agencies, the Legislature has a limited ability to know what is working and what is not, and therefore it is difficult to determine where specific changes should be made.

It was well documented throughout his campaign that now-Governor Justice announced to West Virginians that he felt there was no way our people could bear the burden of more taxes. He said this repeatedly while asking our citizens to “trust him” and vote for him. He even chastised his opponent as having “no real solutions” and called him a “typical politician” for supporting the tobacco tax to balance the budget the previous year. After he was elected, he continued to tell the media and the public the same. Just one week before the start of the regular session, his staff claimed they had a proposal that would reduce government spending by $400 million to $600 million dollars. With West Virginia having the 9th highest government spending per capita in the country, this was welcome news to many of West Virginia’s citizens who long to see our government live within its means. This is good common sense practiced in nearly every household. You do not spend more than you earn.

Apparently just days before his state of the state of address, Governor Justice decided he wasn’t ready to lead. He broke his word to the citizens of West Virginia and proposed the largest tax increase in state history — more than $450 million dollars of tax increases on citizens and job creators. To liken it to the example of how families balance their household budget, his proposal would be like losing your job and then asking your neighbors to borrow money to go on vacation. This is the exact playbook that has been used for decades that has landed us in the position we are in today. The only difference in this case was that Justice knew he couldn’t appear to be doing the same. So in his typical fashion he developed a theatrical display to distract West Virginians from what was really happening. He cracked jokes, scribbled on a white board, ushered in a giant poster board by people dressed in neon clothing and hardhats, and concluded by shouting at everyone.

To adopt the policies proposed by the Governor in his budget would finish off what is left of the job opportunities in our state. Job creators are already preparing for relocation into our surrounding states based on the news they heard from the Governor this week. Fortunately, the people of West Virginia exercised their right at the ballot box to elect a conservative new legislative majority that reflects the beliefs and values they hold dear. The citizens of our state created a safety net against more tax-and-spend policies that have all but obliterated our great state. West Virginians must fight back against out-of-control spending. For the first time in nearly a century, the government must learn to live within its means if there is any hope for the future.