Use new ideas in budget work

There was good news this week: Republican legislators have come up with ways to handle a big chunk of the $270 million budget gap they and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin have been discussing.

Budget negotiations always begin with detailed proposals from the governor’s office. Too often, lawmakers expect the executive branch has covered all the bases.

But on Tuesday, state Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, asked that Tomblin provide more information on options they, not he, brought forth. If implemented, the steps could reduce the budget shortfall by nearly 20 percent. That is a significant amount.

Here are the ideas Cole and Armstead proposed in a letter to the governor:

Ending $16 million a year in state subsidies to the greyhound racing industry.

Implementing a proposal Tomblin himself made earlier this month, to change the formula for state aid to local school systems. That would save $15 million.

Taking $10 million from a fund that had been intended to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Cutting $9 million in funding to help gambling casinos.

Eliminating the office of the state secretary of arts and education to save nearly $1 million a year.

Some of these are no-brainers. What, for example, does West Virginia need with a Cabinet-level secretary of arts and education? Other agencies could cover that department’s work.

Other ideas, such as removing $15 million from the school aid formula, may need to be approached with caution – though that amount pales in comparison with cuts the Department of Education threatened might be enforced unless legislators used tax increases to handle the budget shortfall.

Still other proposals, such as ending the greyhound subsidies, should have been implemented previously.

Of course, each and every one of the lawmakers’ suggestions – and others needed to balance the budget – will result in some sacrifices. But they are preferable to general tax increases that would hurt hundreds of thousands of West Virginians and also to even bigger cuts to county school systems.