Was it really that long ago that the national Republican Party claimed to be the party of fiscal restraint and prudence? You might not know it from the budget deal that passed through Congress earlier this month.
As described by The Associated Press, the budget deal allows the government to resume borrowing to pay its bills and would set an overall limit of $1.37 trillion on agency budgets approved by Congress annually. It does nothing to rein in the ever-growing national debt, and it does nothing to stop annual budget deficits of $1 trillion or more.
On the bright side, the deal avoids the constant flow of federal government shutdowns that usually result in inconveniences to the public while keeping the lights on in the corridors of power.
President Donald Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all supported the deal. West Virginia's delegation in Congress was split, but not across party lines. Voting for it were Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. Carol Miller. Voting against were Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. David McKinley and Rep. Alex Mooney. All but Manchin are Republicans.
It appears restraint in fiscal matters in Washington has gone the way of courtesy and respect in political discussions.
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, people had better get a firmer grip on their wallets. State tax revenues in both June and July were below the projections that annual budgets are based on.
July was the first month of the state's 2019-20 fiscal year. According to numbers released by the State Senate Finance Committee on Aug. 1, the state missed its revenue estimates by $33 million, a shortfall of 10.4%.
As noted by reporter Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette-Mail, a year ago Gov. Jim Justice was passing out leis celebrating higher-than-expected revenue collections. He brushed off the idea that revenues might have been helped by a cyclical upturn in energy prices and an increase in natural gas pipeline and road construction projects.
Severance tax, sales taxes and personal income taxes all fell short of estimates in July, an indication the state's economy may be cooling off, assuming it was as hot as it has been portrayed by state officials.
The shortfall in state revenues comes after the Legislature granted a tax break to the coal industry and one to a struggling power plant in Pleasants County. Perhaps the state did not have the money to help those industries after all.
The state's numbers will bear watching. If July was a one-month downturn, the state budget may be able to recover. If not, we'll be in for another round of austerity, cutbacks and possible tax increases.
The government budgeting process is a complex one, but the final decisions are made by our elected officials. People who voted to drain the swamp at the federal level can't be pleased by what came out of Washington last week. But they should not be surprised. It's against the law now to drain a swamp (technically, a wetland) without building one of equal or larger size to replace it.
At the state level, it's time to see if revenues will continue to slide and, if so, which agencies will be cut or whose taxes or fees will be increased.
Most answers will come in an important election year. How appropriate.