It is the middle of May, and the State of West Virginia still does not have a budget! It is now close to becoming a crisis situation for the people of this State. The excuses for not having a budget can be debated among the political folks, but that still does not solve our need to fund the operation of the State of West Virginia. Unlike the Federal government West Virginia cannot pass a continuing resolution to fund the State after the date of June 30, 2016. If there is no budget there is no way to pay and fund and operate anything as it relates to State business.
Some folks say that this is fine by them. Let the government shut down until it can be like a family budget. The wrongness of that statement is that the State budget is not a family budget. If you get in trouble with the family budget you can borrow to pay the debt or extend the payment period (a form of borrowing) until a better time. The State budget cannot do that. It stops when the budget ends. The budget ends on June 30. The budget must be balanced.
Other folks say that they want to cut the “bloated” waste found in State government. All of us want waste removed in the State, but the question to ask is where is that found? Do we cut the park system? Do we cut further Higher Education? (Already we are suffering in these realms.) Do we cut Highways? Do we cut our primary and secondary school funding? Do we cut corrections and public safety? I think that all of these are areas that could certainly be visited to control waste, but how can that be accomplished in time to meet the budget drop-dead date of June 30? Way too much time was wasted during the past Legislative session on issues that amounted to very little than truly looking at our financial plight and how to address the financial concerns-real concerns. We had time to cut and to make changes, but now it is desperate time as that time passed.
Over the last few years West Virginia cut nearly $500 million in corporate, business and food taxes. Our bond rating soured because our rainy day fund was growing. Our rainy day fund was growing because our energy taxes (low taxes) from shale gas were soaring. Then the world hit the downturn of energy money. Gas was stagnant and losing. Coal was flat. We sagged. Instead of addressing the future, we found ourselves playing politics. The Legislative Leadership did not deal with the issues facing us, and they fought over the small and irrelevant. This Legislative session ended with no addressing of the real financial problems (budget shortfalls; PEIA, etc) that we face as a State. The June 30 deadline approaches, and we must balance.
Now that we are in this crisis, real leadership is going to be required to climb back out of the hole. The question is-do we have the fortitude and willingness to claw back to the surface? Are we willing to address the issues that not only help us reach solvency, but they enable us to soar to the top of where we should be? Can we meet this crisis of June 30, and still continue to work toward a healthy solution to address our future? It can be done, and it has to be done. Bond ratings must be maintained while balancing the budget through solid long term solutions. Responsible leadership requires a vision for meeting the needs of tomorrow. The Governor and leaders of both Legislative Houses must be willing to step forward to support their Finance Committee chairs who seem to understand the depth of this problem. There are solutions, albeit somewhat difficult, if there is the political will. May 16 we shall start the process in Charleston of formulating the budget. I will share information about that next week, and I will give some ideas that should be considered.
WV State Senate