SMITH: West Virginia’s Budget Debate

Justice, Legislature Are Playing Politics
Opinion
By Stephen Smith
Director
West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.

The governor called the Legislature back for a special session starting Thursday, May 4th, 2017. Their purpose is to pass a budget

Stephen Smith

for our state — so that schools, highways, police and other basic necessities don’t shutdown, come June 30.

That task is harder than usual this year. That’s because, 10 years ago, Democratic and Republican leaders dreamt up a grand idea. Let’s pass a series of tax giveaways — mostly to companies and rich folks — and then, those folks will turn around and create a bunch of good jobs.

How did that turn out? You might have noticed there’s been a net job loss since then.

Well, they’re at it again. We still don’t know for sure what’s in the so-called compromise plan. (Beware secret tax plans drafted by politicians.) But according to reports, it does seem to include the Ferns amendment, which cuts income taxes over time. They like to call this plan “tax reform,” because “tax breaks for the rich” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Voters won’t be fooled once they see the numbers. One independent estimate suggested that the wealthiest West Virginians would see a tax cut as high as $3,713 per year — paid for, of course, by tax increases on those of us in the middle.

Some say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. It’s the definition of cronyism, too.

Here’s the thing. This should be simple.

When asked in March, 74 percent of West Virginia voters agreed with a plan that would do three things: protect basic services (roads, schools, seniors, jobs, medicine), share the tax burden across class lines and solve the long-term deficit so we aren’t stuck in this mess again in a couple years.

This should be simple. Protect the state. Share the load. Don’t kick the can.

Independent analysis suggests that the compromise budget will fail two out of three of those tests, if not all three. We know that the tax burden will not be shared. A Metro News analysis also suggests that the plan will create another major deficit in as soon as two years. We hear rumors of major cuts to Medicaid and schools, too, although none of this can be verified (because again, it’s being kept from the public).

This should be simple. See for yourself. It takes about 10 minutes to put together a basic budget framework, using the handy online budget calculator at protectwvorg/resources/budget-calculator.

You’ll see: There are literally hundreds of combinations that allow us to protect basic services, share the load, and solve the problem — including at least two versions of the governor’s own “Save Our State” budget plan (which also added dollars for teacher raises and job creation).

This should be simple, but it’s not, because, between elections, politicians can suffer from amnesia. Some forget they work for us and not their party leadership or biggest donors.

But we the people get one more say before any of this becomes law. This week, the Legislature is coming back to the Capitol to debate and vote on a final budget. We must join them. The session starts Thursday. The Wednesday night beforehand, there is a Budget Town Hall at Capital High School at 6 p.m. Then, Thursday morning at 9 a.m., groups will host a workshop at the Capitol to breakdown what’s in the proposal — before rallying at 10 a.m. and spending the rest of the day meeting with their representatives. The following Tuesday (May 9), leaders from every faith will hold an Interfaith Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol at 10 a.m.

Can’t make it to one of these events? Organize your own. Can’t make it to Charleston? Find your lawmaker on their Facebook page or by phone. Their in-district and Charleston phone numbers are listed at legis.state.wv.us. If you are one of the 74 percent of us who agree, ask them those three questions about the plan. Does the plan protect basic services? Do rich folks pay their fair share? Does it kick the can? Add your own questions.

If you don’t like the answers you get, tell them why. Let’s help them remember who they work for. It’s simple.