Monday, January 2, 2017

No Room For Politics In Budget Talks

In December 2016, West Virginia Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss told lawmakers in Charleston to expect a budget shortfall exceeding $400 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He added that he doesn't think state government can make up for the shortfall with additional cuts.

With the 2016 election and its attendant histrionics and posturing now out of the way, the taboo phrase "tax increase" is being heard with increasing regularity in discussions among lawmakers.

Anyone with half a brain knows that tax increases are a virtual certainty. For all the headlines about continuing state sloppiness (such as the DOT not really knowing how many cars were in its fleet or how many DOT employees were using state cars for personal purposes), there just isn't much fat left to trim.

However, incoming Governor Jim Justice -- and legislators -- had better make sure they have wrung every last dime of savings from the state government before telling residents and businesses their taxes are going to go up.

We do not need a repeat of the shameful fiasco that comprised the 2016 budget-making process. Republicans, drunk with majority power, frittered away valuable time on items guaranteed to push the buttons of state conservatives, such as permitless concealed carry and a "religious freedom" bill that was actually a license to discriminate.

The final budget, passed during a special session that cost state taxpayers an extra $600,000, was far from perfect and essentially just kicked the can down the road, to be worried about after November 8.

With elections out of the way for the time being, we can hope that this year's budget negotiations will be conducted in a true spirit of bipartisanship. West Virginia's citizens deserve as much.

State leaders -- especially those of the GOP persuasion -- need to remember recent election history. In 2014, voters largely rejected the Democrats, who had run the state for decades. 2016 was yet another rebuke of liberal ideals and candidates.

Therefore, the Republicans currently holding the majority cannot afford to become complacent in victory. If they need a reminder that residents don't completely trust the GOP with all the keys to the kingdom, they need to look at the Governor-elect.

Jim Justice, a Democrat, roundly punished his popular and well-funded Republican opponent, Bill Cole, despite a political climate that highly favored virtually anyone with an (R) after their name.

West Virginia's voters have readily demonstrated their ability to express, via the ballot box, their disgust with the status quo. State Republicans need to set aside politics and work with Governor Justice to pass a balanced budget -- or suffer the consequences.

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