Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Parkersburg News and Sentinel. June 21, 2022.

Editorial: Budgets: Accurate, fair numbers are important

With plenty of crowing out of Charleston about financial successes such as nearly $1.2 billion in surplus tax collections, lawmakers are right to wonder how matters got so far out of balance.

During last week’s interim meeting of the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, Department of Revenue Cabinet Secretary Dave Hardy talked about the unusual circumstances.

“Nobody could have seen this coming two years ago,” he said.

Maybe. But lawmakers have to figure out what to do about it, no matter whether it was predicted, or how much tweaking was involved.

“All of the governors since the (Modern Budget Amendment) was passed (in 1968) have done that,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “Gov. (Arch) Moore, I recollect, was really adept at adjusting the numbers …”

Tweaking for the sake of accomplishing administration goals is nothing new in state or federal politics. But it can create a problem for those working toward a fair budget.

On both sides of the aisle, the disconnect is problematic enough for lawmakers to be tossing out ideas such as Rowe’s proposed requirement the Governor’s Office submit revenue budgets within 20% accuracy; and House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, aiming to get the Legislature involved in the budgeting process much earlier.

“In a lot of states, the legislature sets and crafts their own budget,” Householder said. “We only have a finite number of dollars that come in every year for revenue. We know what those finite numbers of dollars are. We should sit down as the Legislature and say OK, what are the budget priorities of the state? What are we willing to spend money for? Then once you have those priorities set, then you know how much money that you’re going to be able to spend for each one of these areas.”

Surprised to learn that isn’t already happening? The governor gets to do the heavy lifting when it comes to budgeting in the Mountain State, with authority to create and submit a budget, AND develop the revenue estimates. What a victory for the governor today if those miraculous tax revenue surpluses lead to, just as an example, tax cuts for which his administration can take credit.

Lawmakers are right to be looking for a way to eliminate the surprises. Surely there will be little resistance to instituting practices that lead to the most accurate revenue estimates and fair budgets possible.

___

The Intelligencer. June 22, 2022.

Editorial: Providing Hope In West Virginia

Hopelessness, addiction and incarceration have created a vicious cycle in West Virginia, as the number of unfilled jobs continues to go up, but the obstacles faced by those trying to rebuild their lives remain as frustrating as ever. Fortunately, it appears some public officials have begun to put two and two together and understand they need to break the cycle.

“In the state of West Virginia, when they step out of prison, they have 851 potential barriers they have to get to simply because they have a criminal record,” Jacob Green, superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Schools of Diversion and Transition, told WV MetroNews. “That could cause issues with access to employment, housing, transportation, the list goes on.”

As the number of those being incarcerated has increased dramatically in recent years, the effort to help those folks re-enter society and become productive citizens has had a hard time keeping up. But those at WVSDT are trying, as are those at the Department of Education’s Adult Education office.

“It’s a service that we provide to adults who maybe lack their high school equivalency, maybe they had to drop out of school or they need skills to enter into the workforce, or even transition to post-secondary education and training,” said Mendy Marshall, director of the adult education office.

Such programs should receive as much support as possible, as we struggle with the two-headed monster of economic woes and a growing population of those trying to find their way back from personal darkness. Once a person has served his or debt to society, or has transitioned into a life of recovery, it is important we give them the hand up they need to avoid spiraling backward. We owe it to them and our state as a whole.

___

Bluefield Daily Telegraph. June 22, 2022.

Gas tax holiday: Idea dead for now in W.Va.

Republicans in West Virginia are still adamant in their opposition to a proposed gas tax holiday, a position that has been reiterated by Gov. Jim Justice.

During a virtual pandemic briefing last week, Justice once again declared that Republican lawmakers were opposed to the gas tax holiday concept. He also repeated his opposition to calling a special legislative session to consider a gas tax holiday or temporary suspension of the state’s gas tax.

“The Legislature said no way,” Justice said of the Republican super-majority that controls the House and Senate. “That’s the end of the issue. Really and truly, I’m not about to call a special session and waste (taxpayer) dollars in a special session. There is no way.”

Democrats have been vocal on the issue, urging Justice to call a special legislative session to address the gas tax holiday.

The state’s 35.7-cents a gallon state tax generates about $35 million a month in revenue that is used for the maintenance of state roads. Justice says the money is needed to repair roads and bridges, which is a valid argument.

Of course, anything that would lower gas prices right now — even a temporary suspension of the gas tax — is a popular talking point. However, the downside to such a move would be a possible interruption in routine roadway maintenance efforts in the Mountain State if the gas tax revenue stream is disrupted.

State Sen. Chandler Swope also said it’s an idea that is “more complicated than it sounds” because of legal challenges involved related to highway bonds.

It is easy to argue that Democrats are being hypocritical here in their push for a gas tax holiday, as the green energy policies of their party is one of several factors contributing to the surging cost of gasoline. Some also point to President Joe Biden’s ill-advised decision on day one of his presidency to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline project, along with Biden’s subsequent decision to pause new oil and gas activities on federal lands as contributing factors to the current woes that motorists are facing at the pump.

For now, don’t expect any movement on a gas tax holiday in West Virginia. The ongoing debate is mostly political theater.

However, Justice has indicated the door is still open to find some way to help ease the burden on residents, but a gas tax holiday does not seem to be an option.

END