CHARLESTON, W.Va. — “The West Virginia state government does not have a revenue problem — it has a spending addiction,” according to a new report released Thursday.
The state is currently battling a $353 million budget hole, but officials with the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance said the shortfall could have been avoided.
The two organizations conducted the report called “Wild & Wasteful West Virginia.” It outlines more than $330 million in wasteful spending spread across nearly 60 different state programs.
A couple of those programs include fairs and festivals. The report says taxpayers pay about $53,000 for the Mountain State Forest Festival, $43,000 for the West Virginia State Fair, $25,000 for the Italian Heritage Festival, $25,000 for the West Virginia Strawberry Festival and more.
“We can’t afford to spend money on festivals,” said Garrett Ballengee, executive director of the Cardinal Institute, on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline”. “Have them pay another nickel, another quarter, another dollar to attend the State Fair. It’s an easy fix. Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for it. There’s 1.8 million people in this state and only 210,000 go to the Fair — why should the other 1.6 million pay for other people’s fun?”
The festivals are included in the “Arts & Culture” section of the report. Ballengee said although the arts are important to the state, it’s not a core government function.
“A core government function is making sure that the public is safe,” he said. “When a family has a shortfall in their budget, they get rid of all that unnecessary spending. The state needs to do the same thing. Art, unfortunately, is not a core service and it should be supported by the private sector, not by taxpayers.”
The report also touches on government operations, including one of two airplanes that “is flown 72 hours a a year and could be sold to help fill gaps in the state budget.”
“Selling a plane that barely gets used for upwards of $1.5 million could go a long way to funding education and roads and things like that,” said David Williams, president of TPA. He was also a guest on “Talkline.”
“One of the things is $48,000 for a water pump for a nursery that supplies Christmas trees all over the state. I love Christmas, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people that celebrate Hanukkah should be subsidizing my celebration,” he said of another wasteful spending issue.
Other parts of the report include regulations, corporate welfare, recreation, education and child and elderly services.
Six recommendations were provided to state leaders at the end of the booklet that read:
1. The state should establish a West Virginia version of the Grace Commission, which was President Ronald Reagan’s committee that analyzed government spending and provided cost savings recommendations to Congress that saved taxpayers more than $1 trillion.
2. State legislators should agree to a one-time statewide external audit conducted by a large accounting firm.
3. The state should establish an independent state inspector general’s office tasked with coordinating investigations into corruption, waste and fraud across state agencies.
4. The West Virginia Constitution must be amended to give the state Attorney General the authority to prosecute examples of fraud and abuse of power.
5. The state Legislature should create either an Office of the Repealer with the responsibility of making recommendations to the Legislature in areas of government waste that should be repealed from the state law.
6. State leaders should take steps to ensure West Virginia’s spending can’t grow faster than the taxpayer’s ability to pay for it.
“Before the legislature comes and asks taxpayers for another nickel, they need to take a scabble to the budget and we’ve given them an excellent resource and a place to start,” Williams said.