Gazette editorial: An $847 million crisis

Essential reporting in volatile times.

Not a Subscriber yet? Click here to take advantage of All access digital limited time offer $5.99 per month EZ Pay.

Interested in Donating? Click #ISupportLocal for more information on supporting local journalism.

So far in the 2016 session, conservative legislators have wasted most of their time on gay-hating, pistol-carrying and other far-right topics, while doing little about West Virginia’s partly self-induced financial crisis.

Thanks mostly to huge business tax cuts in the past, plus decline of the coal industry, the state government lacks $381 million for a balanced budget in the current fiscal year that ends June 30, plus another $466 million shortage projected for the next fiscal year.

By law, the state must have a balanced budget each year, but it’s difficult to see how $847 million in gaps can be closed under current conditions. In his State of the State address, Gov. Tomblin requested a 45-cent increase in the state’s cigarette tax, and new taxes on phone service.

Tuesday, the state Center on Budget & Policy issued a long report on the financial crisis.

The study says West Virginia has slashed support for higher education by $120 million since 2008, the worst reduction of any state. The cutback forced Mountain State students and their families to pay one-third more. Quality of higher education is being jeopardized at a time when college and university degrees increasingly are needed for middle-class careers.

State support for public schools (K-12) also been slashed by $18 million since 2012, largely because the number of students fell by 5,172. State aid to county school systems is based on enrollment. The governor’s proposed 2017 budget foresees another $48 million reduction.

How can the giant money shortages be fixed? The Center on Budget & Policy recommends a bigger increase in cigarette taxes, to $1.55 per pack — plus more taxes on alcohol — plus wiping out $29 million yearly subsidy to greyhound breeders — plus major tax hikes on natural gas drilling — plus applying the state sales tax to barbershops, nail salons and digital downloads.

We hope lawmakers end their obsession with gays and pistols, then do their duty to pass a balanced budget.

Auditor Glen Gainer III said Thursday the current shortfall is the worst during his quarter-century tenure. If a flood of new revenue doesn’t arrive before June 30, he may be forced to halt state paychecks and teacher salaries. “It would be very dire,” he said.

Funerals for Sunday, May 31, 2020

Medley, Brooks - 11 a.m., Starcher Baptist Church, Charleston.

Mullins, Harleen - 1 p.m., Akers-James Funeral Home, Logan; also streaming live, see obituary.

Oscha III, William - 1:30 p.m., Marmet Cemetery.

Taylor, William - 6 p.m., Summersville Baptist Family Life Center.