The Back Pew – May 13th, 2017

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By Stephen Baldwin

Tonight I went to Walmart, and folks wanted to talk about the budget. Earlier in the day I met with a group of educators, and they wanted to talk about the budget. After church the other night, people wanted to talk about the budget. It’s on all of our minds, because we are all affected by it. Here are my responses to a few frequent questions folks raise.

WHY CAN’T WE CUT MORE?  We’ve cut over $600 million out of the state budget in the last six years. “The fat” has been trimmed already. If we continue to cut, it will hurt. We will be cutting jobs, benefits, and services people use. Plus, the cuts we’ve made in the past show effects – increasing tuition because we’ve cut colleges, increasing auto care costs because we’ve cut back on road maintenance, and the list goes on.

“Cut the waste” is an attractive sound bite. I certainly agree with it! But when you actually sit down and look at the numbers, you realize we’ve already played that hand.

If we continue down that road with more and more cuts, what will that do to our quality of life? Who will want to live here if roads are never paved, no one can afford college, and scores of people lose their health coverage?

WHY CAN’T WE MAKE IT SIMPLE & ADD ONE TEMPORARY TAX TO PLUG THE HOLE IN THE BUDGET?  I hear this often. For example, folks say we just ought to bring the food tax back. That does raise about $20 million for every penny you add. But Speaker Armstead is vehemently opposed to the idea. He has not been willing to debate it, much less vote on it.

Also, the long-term problem… is that we would still have a long-term problem. We have a $400 million deficit. Adding a single tax here (or making a single cut there) does nothing to provide a systematic change.

We are losing population, less than half the people work, and we have low health and education levels. That all adds up to a serious cash-flow problem! We need to take bold action. That’s why I support Gov. Justice’s infrastructure plan. It creates jobs, builds roads, adds drug rehab beds, and lays the groundwork for economic growth. While nobody wants to pay more in taxes, at least with those we know exactly where they are going, and we will all benefit.

WHY CAN’T THE GOVERNOR & LEGISLATURE COMPROMISE? To the Governor’s credit, he has worked very hard to compromise. That’s why the bills were delayed the first day of the special session; he and his staff were working with folks to make requested changes. I expect we will begin to see Speaker Armstead soften his position and engage in compromise.

WHEN WILL THIS BE SETTLED?  We go back into session on Monday. If a compromise is reached, it will happen in a matter of days. If we aren’t able to coalesce around a budget framework all sides cam comprise to next week, a shutdown becomes possible. I still refuse to believe that will happen. Surely enough adults will step forward to lead.

That’s the view from the back pew this week. Be well, friends!

(Delegate Stephen Baldwin is a local pastor and member of the WV House. You may reach him at 304-404-4207 or stephen.baldwin@wvhouse.gov)