State legislators ought to adopt a knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion that West Virginians should pay more for government: Read our lips. No new taxes.
That appears to be the reaction legislative leaders are taking. But some lawmakers seem to be considering the idea.
State officials have projected a $146 million gap between expected revenue and planned spending during the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to close it includes taking money set aside for emergencies in the "rainy day" fund, as well as reducing subsidies for horse and dog racing and cutting the amount of gambling proceeds going to counties and municipalities.
Delegate Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, has another idea. He wants to increase the state's 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent until June 30, 2018. That would provide about $200 million in new revenue each year to help state government over what officials hope is a temporarily rough spot in the fiscal road.
Politicians in favor of the idea no doubt will justify it by noting it will cost consumers just one more penny for every $1 they spend. But look at the other number, total revenue: The tax increase would take about $200 million out of the pockets of Mountain State residents. That would have an adverse effect on the state's economy.
State officials have done well in reducing taxes during the past several years. The sales tax on food has been eliminated. So have a few taxes that limited the capacity of businesses to create new jobs.
But all that occurred during good times for state government, an era in which year-end budget surpluses were common and substantial.
Now, with the situation not so rosy, comes the acid test of responsibility to West Virginians - many of whom are struggling to make ends meet.
A tax increase may seem like a wonderful idea to a few legislators hoping for a magic-wand approach to balancing the budget. But to individuals and families with our own budget-balancing challenges, not so much. The tax increase should be rejected. Let's nip it in the bud right now.