The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

March 23, 2014

Prudence

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin approved the state budget last week, but not before exercising his power of the veto to slash $67 million from the Legislature’s budget for the next year.

Among those cuts was $100,000 that was intended to go to Meadow Bridge schools in Fayette County to create “isolation schools.” School systems like the one in Fayette County were to receive the extra money under a program that recognized that some schools in some areas are difficult to gain access to.

While the governor’s office disputes whether the money was ever there to veto in the first place, it’s not much comfort to Fayette County.

“We’ll just continue to look at how we can continue to improve school facilities in Fayette County,” said Superintendent Keith Butcher.

By cutting the $67 million in spending, Tomblin effectively reduced the amount of money that will be taken from the state’s $922 million Rainy Day fund from $147.5 million to around $100 million.

This is, quite simply, a prudent course of action by a public official who has always shown a deep understanding of finances and potential risks.

“Without a tax increase or other revenue source, and absent the action I am making today, (the budget) will drop the Rainy Day Fund below the recommended threshold of 15 percent (of general revenue) down to 11.5 percent in three fiscal years,” Tomblin said in a statement.

We think that’s the right course. Because revenue projections for the next couple of years also indicate balancing the budget is going to be a problem.

In fact, said Tomblin’s Deputy Chief of Staff Jason Pizatella, lawmakers might have to reach into the Rainy Day Fund next year for as much as $150 million to $170 million to balance the next budget.

There is no doubt that agencies and organizations that lost funding will be disappointed. But this year, a number of sacrifices had to be made, such as cutting in-home care for seniors, and from a medical services trust fund.

Tomblin noted that Medicaid will make up for some of that in-home care funding. And he added that uncertainties surrounding the Affordable Care Act are making it difficult to project costs at this time.

Perhaps the most important thing about the broader context of budget shortfalls and the Rainy Day Fund is the passage this year of the Future Fund.

That legislation, pushed vigorously by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, will skim off 3 percent of tax revenues from oil, gas, mineral and other industries to be placed into an account to which lawmakers will have limited access.

One day, when the Future Fund is up and running, the governor’s veto pen can stay in his desk.

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