Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Floods Highlight Budget Problems to Come


In retrospect, it's a good thing West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin didn't acquiesce to Republican requests to raid the state's rainy day fund. Conservative lawmakers had wanted to dip into the fund (to the tune of nearly $200 million) in order to balance the state budget.

The rainy day fund is there for disasters such as the recent punishing floods that have devastated much of our state, not to bail out conservative lawmakers who were unable to even come up with a budget plan without first wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars in a special legislative session that should never have been necessary.

It's a crying shame it takes a natural disaster to put the state's long-term budget problems under a spotlight. However, the very state agencies we relied upon for help during the floods and their aftermath have disclosed they are in fact reeling from several consecutive years of budget cuts. Essential services are running low on operating funds - and the last-ditch fix for West Virginia's budget crisis doesn't prevent this; it merely forestalls the inevitable.

From our state police to the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management... from the West Virginia National Guard to the state's Early Warning Flood System... all of these and many more agencies have seen their funding slashed.

Previous legislative sessions saw fit to cut business taxes by $300 million at a time (with hearty approval from Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike) while revenues from coal severance taxes were already plummeting, as the United States and the rest of the world began to move away from reliance on coal.

It's not a matter of "if" we'll see disastrous flooding again, it's a matter of "when". Will our money problems mean a less effective response to these disasters in the future? When will the never-ending budget cuts stop?

They'll stop when our legislators actually do what they were elected to do, and bring more businesses and jobs to the state. Smoke and mirrors tricks like right to work and prevailing wage repeal aren't the answer. Waiting for coal to come back isn't the solution, either.

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