With a self-congratulatory jumping of the gun, Gov. Jim Justice on Friday touted strong state tax collections for October — a day before the month ended, and three days before the actual revenue report will be released.
“All across the board, West Virginia is kicking butt,” Justice said during a revenue briefing that was short on details but high in hyperbole.
Justice said October revenue collections are on pace to exceed estimates by $20.4 million. The total October revenue estimate was $334.5 million, which would put that total at $359.9 million, about 6% higher than projected.
It would also be $5.6 million above October 2019 collections of $354.3 million.
Through the first four months of the budget year, Justice said state tax collections total $1.59 billion — about $110 million, or 7.4% — above projected year-to-date collections of $1.48 billion.
Justice credited a state economy he said is “the envy of the nation in many ways” for the revenue figures.
However, throughout the summer and fall, Justice administration officials have downplayed the impact of the infusion of nearly $3 billion of federal CARES Act funds into the state economy since April.
That includes $1,200 stimulus checks paid to most West Virginians, and 12 weeks of enhanced $600-a-week unemployment benefits received by many West Virginians.
For many West Virginians, that also includes five weeks of $400-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits paid through federal FEMA disaster funds, which were paid out retroactively in lump sums in September.
Because sales tax collections are remitted to the state a month late, October sales tax collections represent September sales transactions, when the FEMA money would have been in circulation statewide.
Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said Friday October sales tax collections were strong, up 6% from October 2019.
October 2019 collections were $101.18 million, so a 6% increase would be $107.25 million. That would also be above projected sales tax collections of $103.4 million for the month.
Revenue figures cited Friday could not be independently verified, since the state Budget Office and the Senate Finance Committee will not be releasing their October revenue reports until Monday. The state Auditor’s Office shows total year-to-date general revenue collections of $1.538 billion through Thursday, but does not reflect taxes received on Friday.
At one point Friday, Justice called on reporters — who could watch the briefing online, but could not ask questions — to play up the revenue figures.
“The number one thing at least in the days to come … should be from our media, that they should step up and report this goodness. Report how good we’re doing,” Justice implored. “It is infectious across the land.”
The briefing was one of four virtual announcements Justice staged on Friday.