The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 17, 2014

Is less more?


— Editor’s note: The Register-Herald’s parent company, Community Newpaper Holdings Inc., has papers all over the United States. Each Friday, this space will be dedicated to what one of those papers thinks about the issues facing the nation.

One phenomenon that never ceases to fascinate us is the fact that Maryland — which is considered by some to be the richest state in the country — repeatedly faces budget deficits, while West Virginia — which is considered to be one of the poorest states — usually manages to live within its budgetary means.

As its General Assembly session begins, Maryland‘s projected spending is expected to exceed its revenues by more than $400 million.

Maryland’s legislators traditionally seek to make up for such shortfalls by increasing taxes and fees.

One thing our delegation from Allegany and Garrett counties fear is the thought that the so-called “rain tax” will be extended to this end of the state. Money from this tax is used to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

If this issue comes up, the General Assembly will probably do what it has in the past with regard to the so-called “flush tax,” which is to ignore the fact that Garrett County drains to the west — not to the Chesapeake Bay.

West Virginia also is facing a deficit of about $60 million, but plans to tap into its $918 million rainy day fund, which is one of the nation’s best.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is touting a series of tax reductions and other incentives for industries to locate in the Mountain State. He wants to make improvements to the education system while increasing teachers’ salaries, which are among the nation’s lowest. He also wants to emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the schools as a means of training students for well-paying technical careers.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to expand universal, full-day prekindergarten and increase the minimum wage. We suspect that tax hikes will be mentioned somewhere along the way.

Our Western Maryland delegation will also seek to increase the money Allegany and Garrett counties receive from the state for highway projects and maintenance. Those funds have declined, while more money has gone to the metropolitan areas, so our roads have suffered.

Meanwhile, West Virginia Delegate Margaret Staggers (who is a native of Keyser) is seeking a ballot measure that would provide $2.1 billion in bonds for road repairs and construction. Reports are that 12 percent of the state’s roads and 35 percent of its bridges need repairs.

Which approach is better? We’ve always appreciated those people who find ways to live within their means and turn less into more. It will be interesting to see what happens in both states.

— Times-News, Cumberland, Md.r