The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 5, 2009

State financial picture brightens as time to craft budget approaches

Things appear to be looking up again for the Mountain State.

That’s because the April revenue figures West Virginia lawmakers want to see before they craft a new state budget show tax collections in better shape than expected, Manchin administration officials said.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said the month’s general tax revenues should exceed estimates by $15 million to $20 million. That would put state government back on track to end the current budget year June 30 balanced or with a minor surplus, according to The Associated Press.

A key month for annual tax collections, April’s numbers suggest the Legislature won’t have to cut spending in the next budget beyond the $200 million Gov. Joe Manchin has already announced, Muchow said.

“We needed to be on target for this year to reaffirm our estimate for next year,” he said. “The $200 million adjustment will probably hold.”

That’s certainly good news.

But Muchow also does not expect much of a revenue surplus, if any, to help lawmakers close that hole. Half of any excess general revenue must go to the state’s emergency reserve fund.

Both Manchin and legislative leaders decided to hold off on completing the new budget after general revenue missed projections by a combined $92 million in January and February. Lottery revenues are also down. The budget Manchin proposed to lawmakers when their regular session began relied on $4.4 billion from those two sources.

The House and Senate finished that 60-day session on April 11, and plan to complete a new state budget between May 26 and June 6. Muchow said the delay should also give lawmakers a better sense of the rules governing the influx of federal stimulus funds.

“They’re still being developed, but the picture has become clearer,” Muchow said.

A chunk of West Virginia’s estimated $1.8 billion share is meant to help stabilize the budget, though both the governor and lawmakers have sworn off tapping these temporary funds for anything but one-time expenditures.

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