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Spending hike was premature

You may have heard it said that the problem with the always-unbalanced federal budget is not a lack of revenue but, rather, too much spending. The same could be said for West Virginia’s general revenue budget.

On Friday, Gov. Jim Justice’s administration revealed state agencies have been told to pare down spending by $100 million for the current fiscal year. The impetus for that was first-quarter revenue reports nearly $30 million below what had been budgeted. We presume the governor got a sneak peak at October numbers that showed no improvement.

For several years, mid-year spending cuts were no surprise. That was during a period in which the state economy dictated tight-fisted budgeting.

But last year, things picked up to the point that Justice and lawmakers were able to spend more than they had expected. Budget amendments took general revenue spending up to $4.74 billion.

That seemed to indicate to the governor and lawmakers that the state had turned a corner, so they approved a $4.71 billion budget for this year.

Clearly, however, they jumped the gun. Last year was a fluke. Revenue this year is unlikely to cover $4.71 billion in spending, so cuts are being ordered.

Justice is to be commended for ordering cuts now instead of waiting until later, when the process would have been more painful. But the situation is a lesson to him and legislators that one good revenue year does not a trend make. Restraint will have to be the order of the day in crafting a state budget for next year.

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