The Republican leaders of the West Virginia Legislature have taken a critical step in the ongoing budget debate at the Capitol. Monday the GOP laid out its framework for a spending plan for next fiscal year.
The proposal is rooted in something that is a novel approach in government; calculate the amount of tax money the state expects to collect from its citizens in FY 2018 starting July 1st and then spend only that much.
Typically, government budgeting works the other way; elected officials and bureaucrats say how much money they need to operate the government and then they find ways for people to pay for it. This method essentially guarantees that government never gets any smaller.
However, the GOP plan is not as simple as it sounds. In order to stay at or under the projected revenue figure of $4.055 billion next fiscal year, the Republicans have to find savings or make cuts. MetroNews statewide correspondent Brad McElhinny has a complete rundown of the cuts/savings here.
However, those savings and cuts listed still leave the GOP roughly $150 million short, and that’s where the budget balancing act gets even trickier because they will have to go to The Big Three—public education, higher education and DHHR—find the money.
Together those agencies account for about three-fourths of the General Revenue budget, but they are sensitive areas. “These are not easy decisions,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael.
No they are not, which is probably why Monday’s announcement did not include specific cuts in those departments.
However, the Republicans still had a well-organized roll out yesterday, including a room full of GOP House and Senate members to demonstrate a unified front, and visual aids. One oversized check for $4.055 billion representing the amount of money taxpayers will send the state and another for $4.5 billion representing Governor Justice’s budget with a red stamp reading “returned nonsufficient funds.”
Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead stressed repeatedly Monday that their budget is limited to the amount of money available. “It shouldn’t be a novel thing to live within our means,” said Armstead.
Monday’s press conference was a significant turn in the budget debate. Until now, Governor Justice has held the upper hand by releasing two budget alternatives and frequently criticizing Republicans for having no plan.
But the GOP does have a plan, and it has turned the debate to fit their agenda—a government that does not spend more than it collects from the taxpayers.