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Former foes in agreement: West Virginia shorfall looms

November 29, 2000

Former foes in agreement: West Virginia shorfall looms



In the recent election for West Virginia governor, supporters of the two candidates disagreed on many things. Now that the election is over, however, backers of both candidates are predicting a big budget shortfall they aren't sure how the state will cover. The first step for new Gov. Bob Wise is to make sure revenue estimates are as accurate as they can possibly be.

A spokesman for outgoing Gov. Cecil Underwood told The Associated Press that revenues for October were $11 million above estimates. But Sen. Leonard Anderson, one of Underwood's backers and a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the shortfall could be $75 or $100 million.

Anderson, a Summers County Democrat, says the shortfall will come because controversy about mountaintop removal of coal will cut coal severance taxes. Unlike deep mines, mountaintop removal of coal is done with heavy construction equipment that literally chops the top off coal-containing mountains.

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The controversy comes because the debris from such operations has been placed in valleys, sometimes covering up existing streams. Attempts by West Virginia's Congressional leaders to exempt this practice from normal agency scrutiny have failed, leaving the coal companies uncertain as to how they can proceed.

Even though this year's budget was balanced with $52 million that came as West Virginia's share of a statement with tobacco companies, legislative leaders are uncomfortable with the idea of using the next settlement payment in the same way. Other states have used such funds for anti-smoking classes and other health-related measures.

The one possibility no one is seriously considering is raising taxes, even if the shortfall is close to $100 million.

Whatever the state's money woes, we hope we're past the point where unrealistic revenue estimates will be used, as they were under Gov. Arch Moore, as an excuse to postpone hard decisions. Someday the tobacco money will be gone, and West Virginia has to be ready for that day.

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