Many in the GOP--particularly in the House--keep acting as if the budget hasn't already been drastically cut. the Governor has made significant cuts in virtually every area of state government each of the last 3 years. But for some, it's not enough. Governor Tomblin has outlined several options--none of them good, some of them draconian--if more cuts are forced.
Option one includes a four percent cut to public education (resulting in the layoff of 805 teachers and 495 service workers), an eight percent cut to higher education, the immediate elimination of the Promise Scholarship funding and leaving a $43 million gap in PEIA funding.
Option two includes cutting public education by 6.8 percent (resulting in the layoff of 1,369 teachers and 841 service workers), an 18 percent cut in higher ed and a phase out of the Promise Scholarship, but fully funding PEIA.
Option three preserves the Promise Scholarship and fully funds PEIA, but cuts public education by 6.8 percent and closes six state police detachments and six tax offices.
Option four eliminates the state Departments of Commerce, Education and the Arts, Environmental Protection, Revenue (excluding Tax Dept.), Transportation, Veterans’ Assistance, Senior Services and the State Police, resulting in the elimination of 2,758 positions. (Hoppy's Commentary WVMetronews.com 04-08-16)
The answer is not to keep cutting services, stop investing in our education system, and eating our seed corn (The Rainy Day Fund). It is to raise revenue. Coal and gas are in decline and tax revenues are down. We can argue why it's happening, but it's a fruitless debate as we work toward a budget. They ARE down and we need to find new ways to fund the budget. State government has important work to do.
One relatively simple way is by raising the tobacco tax. Tomblin proposed 45 cents a pack. Other have suggested $1.00.
“The lawmakers are faced with tackling this deficit, so it seems to me it is a no-brainer,” Annette Santilli of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said of the cigarette hike. “It’s a win-win for the state of West Virginia, both long-term and short-term.”
West Virginia’s current cigarette tax of 55 cents per pack ranks 46th nationwide.
A $1 tax increase per pack, Santilli estimated, could generate an additional $121 million.
Let's get a budget. Remove the anxiety from students, parents, state workers, and residents about whether our state even cares about the average citizen any more. You want to tackle tax reform or resetting priorities, make it #1 on your agenda for the next session. Maybe stop worrying about raw milk and blocking anti-discrimination efforts and deal with the real issues facing our state.
I went off on a rant about this on a recent Watchdog Morning Show. You can listen here as well as my conversation with Ms. Santilli from ACS-CAN.