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More Cuts or More Revenue to Address WV Budget Crisis

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Budget watchers say priorities such as road repairs could go underfunded if the state closes its budget gap entirely or mostly through cuts. (Protect WV)
Budget watchers say priorities such as road repairs could go underfunded if the state closes its budget gap entirely or mostly through cuts. (Protect WV)
February 9, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is warning against trying to close the state's $600 million budget gap entirely or mostly through cuts. Governor Jim Justice wants to raise $450 million in new revenue - with about half of that coming from increased business taxes.

But, his plan faces a GOP-controlled Legislature - especially on the House side - dominated by opponents of government spending.

Ted Boettner, the executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy, says reaching balance through just cuts would hurt government programs necessary for economic growth.

"If West Virginia doesn't raise substantial revenue to close its $600 million budget gap, schools will see a huge decrease in funding, as will our public colleges, our health care, our senior centers," he explained.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead says West Virginians already are taxed too much, although he may be open to closing some sales-tax exemptions. For his part, Justice has said the state can't cut its way out of the crisis.

After several years of across-the-board cuts under former Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, state agency funding is already down 20 percent. Justice has also laid out an alternative budget that depends on further deep cuts, perhaps to show what would happen to popular programs.

Boettner says some lawmakers might be willing to risk going in that direction, but most West Virginians think more cuts would endanger needed services. He says there is a "huge disconnect" between the public and many lawmakers on this.

"According to a recent poll, 70 percent of West Virginians and a majority of Republicans said they would be willing to pay more taxes if it means no cuts to important public programs like education, roads and public safety," he said.

Boettner says the new group Protect West Virginia aims to educate the public through workshops around the state. He says it also wants to keep folks engaged on budget questions during the legislative session.

Boettner says on the website ProtectWV.org, you can learn more and see ways to make your voice heard on the issue.

Dan Heyman/Shaine Smith, Public News Service - WV