No celebration for state budget news
You did not hear air horns going off in Charleston during the weekend, nor was the air around the Capitol Complex filled with confetti — even though state government revenue ticked up in February.
Both Gov. Jim Justice and state legislators are well aware the February revenue report may have been a sigh-of-relief moment, but it was far from light at the end of the fiscal tunnel. West Virginia state government still is spending far beyond our means.
After months in which revenue reports indicated less money coming in than had been expected, February was good. Revenue was 104 percent of what had been projected.
But for the first eight months of the fiscal year, revenue still lagged badly behind amounts on which the budget was based. It was nearly $106 million below estimates at the end of February.
And the good showing for that month bore signs of being a result of a one-month anomaly. Of the $10.2 million in higher-than-expected revenue, two line items — liquor taxes and lottery transfers — made up $10.7 million. Either we Mountain State residents were drinking and playing the numbers a lot more than we have for some time, or the revenue reports from those two sources were due to some sort of accounting irregularity.
There was other good news last week, of course. Justice announced that about $120 million had been found in various state accounts to take care of the predicted $123 million deficit for the current fiscal year. That means borrowing from the emergency Rainy Day fund will not be necessary.
That will help during the current fiscal year, but bear this in mind: Once that money is cleaned out of state accounts, it will be gone — and no help for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
A budget shortfall of as much as $500 million has been forecast for fiscal 2018.
Make no mistake about it: News on revenue and the $120 million “found” for this year was good. In essence, it means that regarding the state budget, we West Virginians paused in our sprint toward fiscal disaster.
Unfortunately, we remain headed steadily in that direction.