COMMENTARY

Unless something has gone haywire – and there are all kinds of ways it could have – today could be the day we’ve all been waiting for.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll hear a budget plan from the West Virginia Legislature.

Brad McElhinny

Don’t be mistaken. This is not the actual budget. That’s subject to a lot of moving parts that could change as other legislation passes the next few weeks.

But what we hope to see today will be the Legislature’s vision for how state government will live within its means for the coming fiscal year.

Today also provides the fodder for a real debate over the Legislature’s approach, likely to be heavier on cuts, versus Gov. Jim Justice’s approach that banks on $450 million in increased revenue.

I believe legislators when they say they’ve worked hard to get to this point. I’ve sat in their budget hearings with state agencies, and I’ve seen the questions they’ve asked.

I’ve also seen big wooden doors close, when I couldn’t go in, which meant they were caucusing to try to reach consensus on what they’re going to do.

Reading between the lines on what legislative leaders have been saying, what’s presented today will be a framework that shows state government living within its means.

The state revenue for the general fund has been just north of $4 billion.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead say that’s what there is to spend.

There is no more, they say.

So, some cuts must be made. The two biggest areas in the general fund are K-12 education and the Department of Health and Human Resources.

If areas within those departments are cut, there will surely be outcry from some West Virginians.

And if legislators wind up deciding some of their proposed cuts have gone too far, that’s when they could start looking at increased revenue.

During the home stretch of the session, legislators could start changing the numbers on some of the tax reform bills they’re considering. Lifting a percentage or two on some sales taxes could mean more funding for state agencies – if it came to that.

More twists and turns are likely before the state budget is final.

But today is the day the debate really begins.

Unless today is still not that day.

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