The Journal of Martinsburg, West Virginia, published this editorial on Oct. 30 regarding an effort for West Virginia agencies to spend $100 million less than they had planned for the current fiscal year:

It felt good to loosen our belts for awhile, didn’t it? Unfortunately, it is time to tighten them again.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has told heads of state agencies to find ways to spend $100 million less than they had planned for the current fiscal year. Lagging revenue — nearly $30 million below estimates for the first three months of fiscal 2020 — is being blamed.

Shaving $100 million out of the $4.71 billion general revenue budget may not sound difficult. Consider the fact that about two-thirds of the budget is for fixed costs that cannot be reduced, and the chore becomes more painful, however.

After several tight budget years, much of the last one was a pleasant surprise. Revenue was much higher than expected, allowing Justice and legislators to loosen our belts and spend more than state officials have for some time. Pay raises for state employees, a little more money for road repairs and assorted other good things were made possible.

It is not as if the bottom dropped out of the economy during the past few months. However, state government is not bringing in enough money to cover the fiscal 2020 budget — so belts have to be tightened again.

State officials have blamed the revenue slowdown primarily on severance taxes. That is not the full story, however.

It is true that during the first three months of fiscal 2020, severance taxes brought in $26.4 million less than expected. But personal income tax collections were bad, too, at $21.5 million below projections for the first three months.

In other words, the problem may not be restricted to the natural gas and coal industries, the source of most severance tax revenue. A mild but general slowdown in the state’s economy may have begun.

We hope not. But prudence dictates that unless the state’s economy kicks into high gear later this year, Justice and legislators should begin planning for next year’s budget at $4.61 billion — this year’s original budget minus the $100 million cut — and work downward from there.

Tourism initiative spreads the word

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel published this editorial on Oct. 29 regarding an idea to promote tourism to West Virginia:

On a national stage, West Virginia does not always enjoy the greatest of reputations. Most people, if they understand there is a West Virginia at all, have a general idea of us as backward, poor, maybe drug-addicted and living in a land like something out of “Deliverance.” (That was Georgia, people. Georgia.)

That is what makes the latest effort from Chelsea Ruby’s state tourism office so fun.

In partnership with an advertising agency, Ruby and Co. got more than 500 people to apply for a mystery trip from the Washington, D.C., area. There was a pixelated ad campaign that obscured the destination of the mystery trip. Once the pool was whittled down to 33 participants, they were told to meet at 7 a.m. to board a bus, wearing layered clothes and hiking boots, and be ready for a mystery adventure.

Approximately three hours later, they arrived in the Canaan Valley/Blackwater Falls area at the peak of fall foliage season. They got to spend 48 hours in Almost Heaven, climbing at Seneca Rocks, exploring Davis and Thomas, riding horses in Canaan Valley — and of course eating. Then, poor souls, they had to go home.

“My impressions of West Virginia have certainly changed,” one participant said. “There’s so much this state has to offer in terms of food, culture and exploring nature. If there’s anything on your bucket list for vacation, West Virginia will definitely deliver.”

Even better, “I can’t wait to go home and tell friends and family that this is where we need to go next,” said another.

Meanwhile, the pixelated ads back in D.C. had switched to reveal the name of the destination, and show it in its fall finest.

It may seem as though 33 people is not a lot, but they can spread the word quickly. And the experiment is another in a long line of creative ideas out of the tourism office to help the Mountain State capitalize on the best if has to offer.

Kudos to Ruby and her team on another fun, and apparently successful, idea.

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