If you've been trying to make sense of the budget mess in the state capitol, good luck. Here are a couple of news articles that lay out the basics, one from MetroNews and one from the Gazette-Mail. Short version: it's a mess and there's a lot at stake.
Here's my take on it, as published in a Gazette op-ed this week:
Gov. Jim Justice seems confident that a deal on the state budget is within reach, having told those attending a news conference, “I think we’re on a pathway to pass a budget that’s going to be really special.”
Of course, things could be “special” in all kinds of ways.
I really appreciate the governor’s sustained effort on behalf of a budget that benefits all West Virginians and doesn’t throw any of us under the bus (not to mention the fact that he raised the bar significantly on any and all future news conferences involving visual props).
While I understand the desire to reach a deal with the Republican Legislature, I hope the result isn’t a “compromise” that would hurt working families while giving a tax cut to the wealthy and causing more serious fiscal problems down the road.
Some elements of a proposed “compromise” proposal now being discussed are pretty ominous. These include major cuts to the state’s income tax, which is the only tax based on the ability to pay; increases in regressive consumer taxes; and the promise of long-term and ongoing budget deficits that could further slash the things we need to thrive in the years to come.
As Brad McElhinny reported for Metro News, the proposed compromise would “raise revenue up to $50 million for the coming fiscal year but cut revenue by $170 million each of the following two years, an analysis says.”
An assessment by Mark Muchow, deputy secretary of the Department of Revenue, estimates that, by 2020, this will cause a revenue decline of $220 million due to income tax cuts. This would come on top of year after year of major budget cuts.
On top of that, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the proposed compromise would raise taxes for the bottom 80 percent of West Virginia households, while cutting them for the wealthiest 20. The biggest winners would be the wealthiest 1 percent, who would see a cut of over $3,700.
This comes at a time when revenue increases are needed for the things we value most: schools, higher education, infrastructure, kids, seniors, veterans, parks, recreation, etc.
It’s one thing to raise revenue to maintain our quality of life, but making the tax system more unfair to low-income families in order to give yet another break to those who don’t need it is just wrong.
As Sean O’Leary, from the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, recently tweeted, “If WV is going to increase taxes on working families, it should be for investing in schools, roads. Not to pay for tax cuts on the wealthy.”
What West Virginia needs is a compromise that doesn’t compromise our future.