Addressing the arcane state budget process.

One of the largest problems that needs to be addressed in West Virginia is the budget. Looking down the road, revenue will continue to be a problem for our state. But the citizens of West Virginia should have the ability to better inform their opinions on how their tax money is spent. When looking at the budget process holistically, it is clear that our processes are outdated and cloudy at best.

The state’s budget, which is hashed out by the executive branch in closed hearings not accessible to the public, is almost entirely controlled by the governor’s office. Our governor’s power over the state budget is rivaled by few states in the country. This executive-driven and opaque process is in desperate need of modernization—to allow greater participation by our legislators, as well as citizens. Added good governance and transparency measures will lead to greater empowerment of West Virginians and their representatives in Charleston.

Right now, it is impossible to go to any one source to determine the state’s actual budget for any given year. There is no consolidated document between the executive budget, the budget bill, legislative changes, and the governor’s veto message. West Virginians need a bill that would mandate a reconciled document be published online, giving access to everyone.

Currently, the details of the executive budget agency expenditures are broken into two types of spending: personnel costs and “other.” These other expenditures are often the lion’s share of the state agencies’ funding. There is no further explanation or transparency into how that money is budgeted or spent. The aforementioned bill would eliminate this category and require a full explanation of the projected expenditures for the next fiscal year.

Every year, state agencies hold private budget hearings with the State Budget Office and the governor’s office to submit and discuss their budget requests, address future capital expenditures, and answer any questions. Detailed estimates are presented in these closed hearings, and once the governor reviews them, he presents them in his budget to the legislature. We need to shine a light on this process. These hearings should be made public for greater transparency and information flow between the people and their elected representatives.

All West Virginians should have the right to see how and where their tax money is being spent. It should be made easily accessible and available online. If we make reforms to better inform both our legislators and citizens, we will empower our people and enable their greater participation in the process of governance.

Riley is a candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates, 67th district.

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