Helmick Shows "Conservative" Democrats in the Legislature Aren't as Conservative as They'd Like Us to Think
West Virginia Senate Finance Committee Chairman Walt Helmick, who will face a stiff reelection challenge next year in the sprawling 15th Senatorial District that stretches from his home of Pocahontas County to Martinsburg, was on Hoppy's show this morning to talk about the special legislative session scheduled to begin September 7. Not five minutes after he told Hoppy there was no way whatsoever we could ever afford any tax cut of any kind, he said he generally agreed with the assessment of House Finance Committee Chairman Harold Michael that we can easily afford some pay raises for most state employees. If you understand how we can easily pass a pay raise that would be a recurring item in every state budget hence but not provide any relief for the taxpayers of this state, you're a lot smarter than me and need to apply for MENSA membership.
Now, I understand that many people who have chosen a career in the civil service of this state are paid rather poorly. Salaries are not indexed for inflation, which gradually erodes the real value of their compensation. Of course, keep in mind that we are dead last in personal income across the board. Truthfully, I don't mind a public employee pay raise as long as we take great care to prevent any new unfunded pension liabilities from accruing as a result of any raises. We should even consider an automatic Cost Of Living Adjustment system like the federal government and many other states have to maintain the value of public employee compensation and moderate the annual increases. However, my position ultimately rests on our ability to do so without creating any new unfunded liabilities. We don't need to dig our hole any deeper.
But back to tax cuts. How can the legislative leaders say pay raises are on the docket but any and every proposal conceivable for even modest tax relief seems to bear the Mark of the Beast? Republicans in the Legislature have proposed many plans for phasing out both the food tax and business franchise tax that would permit current levels of government revenues to continue by using future growth in revenues for tax cuts. Senator Vic Sprouse and the other Senate Republicans have proposed phasing out the food tax over as long as 12 years (at just over $10 million per year) and the business franchise tax over a similarly long period.
The ugly little secret of the supposedly "conservative" Democrats in the Legislature is that when it comes to fiscal issues, they're chronic taxaholics in denial--and not just any case, but John Kerry/Ted Kennedy/Michael Dukakis-type taxaholic. To them, tax cuts can never happen, because "we don't have the money." The legislative leaders think we work for them and then we serfs get to keep what they let us after they take what they want. It's time to make a run on the pitchforks.
Helmick's rhetoric about opposing tax cuts because he wants to pay the state's debts and unfunded liabilities is as empty as the bar at Teddy Kennedy's house on Sunday morning. Only if we had a constitutional spending limit like Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which has refunded over $3 billion to Colorado taxpayers over the last 12 years and promoted robust economic growth, could we treat such rhetoric with any seriousness. I am drafting a state constitutional amendment limiting taxes and spending in his state that is similar to the Colorado law and will be privately presenting it to several Republican legislators I know. By restraining the growth of government in the future, we can grow our way out of high taxes and economic stagnation. Instead of a vicious cycle of economic stagnation and tax hikes, we can embark on a cycle of economic growth and tax cuts thanks to the revenue growth that will result.
BTW, if you're reading just this story and not the whole blog, you'll definitely want to read my follow-up, So, Why is Cutting WV Taxes OK Despite the Multibillion Dollar Unfunded Liability? or the whole blog itself.