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Analysts Critical of Likely Legislative Approach to WV Budget

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Analysts Critical of Likely Legislative Approach to WV Budget
Dan Heyman, Public News Service

Even with a 45-cent cigarette tax increase, budget analysts say state lawmakers look likely to lean too heavily on cuts and one-time money. Bowing to an anti-tax faction in the House, state senators have been working on a tobacco tax boost smaller than they passed in March.

Observers say the tobacco tax may be the only new revenue approved by the special budget gap session.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, says it still leaves too large a hole to fill with cuts and temporary patches.

"Legislators would still have to try to find either an additional hundred and $28 million in cuts, or $128 million in revenue," he said. "And we can't continue to kick the can down the road. That's why we need additional revenue to help deal with our budget problem today and tomorrow."

Republican House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead argues the state should not be raising taxes on struggling West Virginians, but Boettner says cuts already are slowing the state's growth.

The budgets for state agencies already have been cut by a fifth over the last three years.

Boettner says West Virginia really needs to be putting more into things like repairing the crumbling roads and easing tuition at public colleges and universities.

"It's important to recognize that the budget has already been severely cut," he added. "We cannot continue to make drastic cuts to higher education that will pile more debt on the backs of students and hurt our future prosperity."

Along with the 45-cent cigarette tax increase, lawmakers look likely to take more from the rainy-day fund and to sweep the remaining balances out of various state accounts.

Boettner says those are one-time steps. He says they won't deal with the basic budget problems, and still will leave big gaps requiring destructive cuts.