Charleston Gazette-Mail – What’s going on in West Virginia? Month after month, we see news releases from Gov. Jim Justice and other elected officials touting historic revenue surpluses, sending the impression that West Virginia’s economy is thriving and that the state has more tax revenue than it knows what to do with.
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But at the same time, families and workers are experiencing daily the impacts of state programs and services that have been underinvested in. The roads are bad — a sinkhole nearly swallowed a local police department; the health insurance program for state and local employees, PEIA, needs hundreds of millions of dollars to remain sustainable; shortages of Child Protective Services workers and correctional officers — largely due to noncompetitive pay — are causing safety crises; thousands of families recently lost their child care assistance due to a lack of state funds invested in the system; and the state’s flood monitoring program is severely underfunded.
So where is the disconnect? Why does West Virginia have a surplus of tax revenue that isn’t getting to where it is most needed and where it would have the greatest impact for our state’s residents? The biggest reason is that, in West Virginia, the governor’s administration has complete power over the size of the budget through the state’s revenue estimates, or the amount of tax revenue expected to be collected in the upcoming year. Those revenue estimates effectively set a cap on the state budget. Since West Virginia is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget, the legislature cannot spend more than the revenue estimate unless it votes to raise taxes.
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