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A saying often attributed, possibly wrongly, to Dr. Martin Luther King asserts that “budgets are moral documents.” Even if he didn’t say it, I’m pretty sure he would have gotten around to it, if his life hadn’t been cut short.

And the point remains valid. Public budgets reflect the moral judgements and values of those who make them. They expose the reality behind the rhetoric.

As Jesus said in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In that context, the budget proposed by the West Virginia Senate Finance Committee reveals what’s important to its leaders. Or, more to the point, what isn’t.

The Senate budget makes several changes to the already bare-bones budget proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.

Here’s a very partial list of what’s not important to the senate leadership:

  • Emergency public health, cut by $2 million.
  • Recovery from addiction. The highly successful Jobs and Hope program, originally known as “Jim’s dream,” after the governor, is zeroed out with a $3.3 million in cuts.
  • Programs for senior citizens, with a $500,000 cut.
  • Education, including $830,000 from two accounts, zeroing out Educational Broadcasting with $3,830,691, a $12 million cut to West Virginia University and a $6 million cut for Marshall University.
  • Economic development, with $8,750,000 in cuts from various accounts.
  • Tourism, which boosts our economy and enhances quality of life, with a 50% cut of $7 million.
  • Everything else, with a 1.5% across-the-board agency cut, affecting everything from health care to natural resources to human resources to public safety.

The situation is in flux and things might change, but they provide a clear view of the priorities of some of the state’s elected leaders. And these cuts, if enacted, follow on the heels of nearly 15 years of earlier hits to the state budget because of West Virginia’s failed 2007 tax reform that phased out the business franchise tax and reduced the corporate income tax.

And that’s just the beginning, since Republican leaders are hell-bent on drastically reducing or eliminating the state income tax. Although they haven’t reached an agreement on just how to do this, it’s a safe bet that any such measure will ensure further and deeper cuts in programs and services, to provide tax cuts for the wealthiest West Virginians — and that the cuts will get deeper with each passing year.

Rather than learning from past mistakes, some state leaders seem to want to double down on failed policies. Unless this is stopped, one way or another, ordinary West Virginians will wind up paying more and getting less.

Rick Wilson works for the American Friends Service Committee and is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.

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