Republicans’ turn to spend like there’s no tomorrow

Remember the good old days when Republican politicians could argue that Democrats were spending like there was no tomorrow?

Welcome to the new reality in West Virginia. Here, Republican Gov. Jim Justice has proposed a fiscal 2020 general revenue fund budget that is nearly $300 million higher than what we’re supposed to spend this year. More on that “supposed” in a minute.

Many GOP lawmakers seem to think the governor isn’t going far enough.

Let’s add up some of the bigger-ticket items in Justice’s and Republican legislators’ shopping carts:

* Senate Bill 451, the “omnibus education bill.” According to fiscal notes provided to legislators, the total cost of it would amount to $367 million a year. That includes about $120 million for public employee pay raises and another $120 million to cover unfunded liabilities in the Teachers Retirement System.

* Providing a state income tax exemption for Social Security payments, at about $50 million a year.

* Eliminating the business inventory tax, which would be phased out over a seven-year period. The annual hit to the budget by then would be $140 million.

* New substance abuse programs, at $25 million.

* New social services spending, $20 million.

* Taking care of deferred maintenance on public buildings, $20 million.

* Higher spending for tourism promotion, $14 million.

* Creating an intermediate appellate court, $7 million.

* Paying tuition for many students attending community and technical colleges, about $7 million.

Last but not least, a one-time, $100 million payment to help shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency — which would be all right for at least two years without the money.

That brings us back to the “supposed” current-year budget. Justice has talked about providing the PEIA money out of this year’s budget, by dipping into the expected $300 million surplus. That would reduce the amount paid into the emergency Rainy Day fund.

Add it all up and the long-term addition to spending amounts to around $650 million a year. That’s more than double the surplus expected this year.

And oh, by the way, you’ll notice I didn’t mention any more funding for highway and bridge repairs. That’s a separate budget, and the governor hopes it will total about $1.38 billion in fiscal 2020 –around $30 million more than for this year.

Most of the proposals for increased spending sound like good ideas. Who can object to giving retirees a break on state income taxes, after all? And we know killing the inventory tax would spur job creation.

But who’s going to pay for all of this? Budget analysts have warned the $300 million surplus expected for this year may not occur in the future.

So, if revenue dips by this time next year, who’s going to cover all that new spending?

P.S. — There has been no talk in Charleston of finding ways to reduce state government spending. But you probably had guessed that already.

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Good for U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for demonstrating that West Virginians have a sense of humor.

According to the Washington Post, a new book by an ex-White House staffer alleges that in 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had a talk about Manchin with President Donald Trump. Referring to the then-upcoming 2018 election, McConnell allegedly told Trump, “We’re going to crush (Manchin) like a grape.”

Manchin was re-elected.

According to the Post, Manchin’s reaction, on hearing the story a few days ago, was to hand-carry a jar of grape jam to McConnell’s office. It came from a small company in Richwood, W.Va.

Manchin tweeted that he’d heard McConnell “wanted some #WV crushed grapes, so I dropped some off at his office today.”

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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