West Virginia budget includes eye-brow raising line items

As West Virginia legislators were sending a state budget for the coming fiscal year to Gov. Jim Justice last weekend, it presented an opportunity to reflect on this: They approved a plan to spend $7,579 for every man, woman and child in our state during the 12 months that begin July 1.

If you’re good at math, you may have done a quick calculation and concluded that I’m wrong. After all, dividing the $4.6 billion or so in the budget by the 1,805,832 people the Census Bureau says live in West Virginia nets a much lower per-person figure.

But state government spends far more than that. The number governors, legislators, the press and most people talk about at this time of the year is only the general revenue budget. It will turn out around $4.6 billion. It is the primary topic of conversation because it covers revenue mostly from taxes on people and businesses inside the state. And, it includes nearly all of the truly discretionary spending legislators can do.

In truth, the whole budget, consisting of 19 sections, calls for nearly $13.8 billion in spending next year.

Included in that is $1.331 billion for the state road fund, $1.509 billion in “appropriations from other funds,” $5.739 billion in federal funds, $418 million from the state lottery, and several million dollars from various other sources. The budget for next year includes more than $60 million the governor and legislators hope will be the “surplus” from this year.

So yes, it is more than $7,500 per person or, if you prefer to look at it that way, more than $30,000 for every family of four.

Obviously, the state Tax Department isn’t taking that much out of our pockets. Nearly a third of the budget is in federal money, much of it earmarked for programs such as Medicaid. Bear in mind, though, that there is no money tree in Washington; the cash comes out of someone’s pocket (or is added to our already staggering $22 trillion national debt).

A look just at the $4.6 billion or so general revenue budget reveals some numbers that may surprise you.

Many West Virginians are aware that the Departments of Education ($1.845 billion) and Health and Human Resources ($1.254 billion) are the biggest chunks of the general revenue budget. But what does it cost us to enforce the law in West Virginia?

Just in general revenue fund spending, about $590 million a year. That covers the State Police, jails and prisons, juvenile justice and the general court system. It also includes $29.3 million for the state Tax Division.

And remember, in addition to general revenue funding, money flows to the DOE, the DHHR and law enforcement from other sources. For example, the DOE receives from Washington $151.4 million a year for the school lunch program, another $117.8 million in aid for exceptional children and more than $220 million not specifically earmarked.

How much do you suppose the feds send us each year to cover the state militia item in Section 6 of the budget? Would you guess $100.4 million?

Elsewhere in the budget are a variety of fascinating line items:

* Medical cannabis program fund, $2,555,698.

* Division of Natural Resources wildlife program license fund, $17.5 million.

* Division of Labor steam boiler program, $102,716. No, I don’t know how that’s spent or from where it comes.

* Tax Division wine tax administration fund, $274,379.

* Reduced cigarette ignition propensity standard and Fire Prevention Act fund, $50,000.

* National Coal Heritage Area Authority, nearly $5.2 million.

* “Federal economic stimulus” funding to the Division of Human Services, $5 million.

* From Washington, $923,316 for the meat inspection fund.

The budget bill itself — what will become law — is 193 pages long. The information above is from the budget bill passed earlier this month by the state Senate and House of Delegates. If you’re interested, you can look at the spending plan at budget.wv.gov.

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