Statehouse Beat: Shrinking Government, Expanding Doom | Phil Kabler


One of my favorite places on the global web is the US Inflation Calculator.

It has many uses. Watching the episode “Mary Tyler Moore” when Mary helps WJM’s new programming director look for an apartment, and the director says she’s looking for something in the $400 range, the calculator tells me that this would be over $2,500 today. (Which, then or now, would make for some pretty Minneapolis digs.)

Or, when I plugged my starting salary into the Gazette in 1985, I found it equaled around $48,500 today – which reminds me that I was lucky enough to break into the press during his last happy days.

Or finding out that when gas prices soared to $4.14 per gallon in 2008, that equates to $5.46 per gallon in today’s dollars, debunking claims that today’s gas costs are at rock bottom. unprecedented heights.

Recently I plugged in the state general revenue budget for fiscal year 2012-13, $4.52 billion, and found that 10 years later that would be $5.53 billion .

In reality, pending final passage of the budget bill for fiscal year 2022-23 (SB 250), the general revenue budget will be approximately $4.64 billion.

In other words, general revenue spending has grown anemic 2.6% over the past decade, while the purchasing power of a dollar has shrunk 22% (and the calculator inflation stops at the end of 2021, so that’s not counting the current – ​​and temporary – inflation rate of 7.5%.

Depending on your political belief, that means either the legislature is doing a good job of controlling spending, or it’s slowly bleeding state agencies and programs to death by systematically cutting the resources needed to function properly.

We have seen it this term, with public schools and many public agencies unable to fill vacancies due to low wages. (Compensation issues that won’t be resolved with election-year pay increases approved for public educators and public employees, part of a ritual long before I arrived on Capitol Hill.)

I don’t have enough space to give many examples, so I’ll focus on higher education.

In the 2012-13 budget, the General Revenue Vote for Higher Education was $456.14 million, or $555.5 million in today’s dollars.

Currently, the Finance Bill 2022-23 allocates $449.74 million to higher education, which represents approximately 81% of the purchasing power of the 2012-13 vote.

I don’t often agree with Delegate Marty GearhartR-Mercer, but he’s right that part of this process is sleight of hand, with the governor’s office setting artificially low revenue estimates in order to create supposed budget surpluses – surpluses that are then used to fund budget supplements to help partially meet the expenditure cuts in the finance bill.

However, constant or declining funding for higher education has forced the elimination of programs and majors, and led to huge increases in tuition fees to compensate for lost income, the pricing of college education beyond the reach of many West Virginians and leaving others with massive student loan debt. .

If the legislator pursues Grover Norquestfrom dreaming of shrinking government to the size it can be drowned in a bathtub, a series of long-term flat budgets will prove as effective as enacting massive tax and budget cuts.

Of course, it also means enduring underperforming schools and colleges, rutted roads, crumbling foster homes and other social service programs, and an accelerating exodus of the best and brightest from the state.

This is still my most inconvenient column of the year, as the column is due back to my editors on Friday afternoon, with 33 hours remaining in the legislative session, but will not reach readers until after the end of the session (print edition readers, anyway).

Since significant developments can occur during those 33 hours, that means any end-of-session comments will have to wait until next Sunday.

I would like to highlight a moment last week when, amid budget surpluses and a large unspent balance in the House of Delegates account, the House rejected, by a vote of 21 to 74, an amendment to the budget bill ( SB 250) to allocate $50,000 to install technology to allow live video streaming of House committee meetings.

(Currently, House meetings are broadcast in an audio-only format, unlike the Senate, which not only offers video streaming, but also video archives of all Senate committee meetings, as the Senate has upgraded its technology years ago.)

It is clearly not a lack of funding or technological advancement that prevents the leadership of the House from advancing this contribution to transparency. House leaders obviously don’t want transparency, as evidenced last week when committee work on controversial measures was not only allowed to go past midnight, but was also allowed to continue even after technical glitches. caused failures of the audio stream only.

Speaking of which, some found it disagreeable that Speaker of the House RoGer Hanshaw, R-Clay, held a fundraiser for the campaign in Charleston on March 3, with nine days remaining in the session.

There have been numerous bipartisan attempts in the past to enact bills prohibiting lawmakers from raising funds during legislative sessions, and in 2020 the legislature passed a law that, while not prohibiting such collections of funds, requires the disclosure of contributions to the office of the Secretary of State within five days. (State Code 3-8-15).

I don’t want to devote much space to Justice’s latest tantrum on Monday. I have stated in the past that his accusations against me were either complete fabrications or gross exaggerations. Even if they were all true, I could sleep easy knowing that none of them resulted in a single preventable death in West Virginia.

However, I want to comment on two points, the first being that the courts called me an atheist, which is not true. I am agnostic. (He also claimed that I had “a negative impact on God”, I argue that it is impossible for a mere mortal to negatively impact a supreme being.)

However, the fact that Justice has brought religion into the equation is typical of the mindset holding West Virginia back: Unless you are a white male conservative fundamentalist Christian, you are relegated to a kind of second or third class citizenship in this state. That one practices a faith other than Christianity, or that one practices no faith, should not be grounds for denigration.

Second, Justice claimed I had “the worst vulgar mouth under the sun,” apparently in reference to an expletive-filled letter I supposedly sent to the governor’s office.

This came as a surprise to those who know me, as they know that I almost never use obscenities, either orally or in writing.

It’s not that I’m offended by those words. It’s probably just that I grew up in a time when kids still got their mouths washed out to swear, and bad language was virtually non-existent in mainstream media.

(I remember as a pre-teen listening to Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” only when no adults were home and at low volumes.)

Initially, I thought Justice’s repeated outbursts were carefully calculated, much like how Trump singled out reporters to attack as a way to appeal to his base and deflect criticism. However, I come to believe that Justice is in trouble. This is not the behavior of a rational person.

In the meantime, I am curious to see what is in this letter. I have FOIA’ed it.

I also appreciate all the readers who sent me links to studies and research supporting my thesis that the state’s relatively bland response to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to its high rates of hospitalizations and deaths per 100,000 population.

One of them came from Lynda Goldberg of Morgantown, whose husband, Dr. Rich Goldberg, retired as director of the WVU Cancer Center. Having frequent access to Dr. clay swampvice president of health sciences at WVU and state COVID-19 czar, Goldberg said she regularly pleads with him to convince the judiciary to take more aggressive stances on face masks and vaccinations.

She said he was told Justice “understands the science” but believes he can’t go that far with COVID-19 policy before being pushed back by the Legislative Assembly.

That’s probably a politically reasonable conclusion, but hardly a profile of courage.

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