It’s that time of the year again when the news is full of stories on local and state budgets for the new year, how they must be balanced before approved and how difficult the task is for leadership because there’s only so much public money available to accomplish the task. That’s when talk of cutting the fat, doing more with less or simply holding the line surfaces along with downbeat predictions about how lower spending plans affect public services.
It all sounds rather mind-numbing or depressing to contemplate, prompting us to turn the page of the newspaper or find another channel to watch. But the inescapable fact is that decisions made about expending the dollars we pay in taxes enter our lives on a daily basis, from the shortening of operating hours for local agencies to an increase in the fees for your favorite outdoor activity. And the biggest challenge to those individuals either locally, or in Columbus and Charleston who are in charge of making a budget is to make sure, in the rush to craft a workable plan, not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. In other words, don’t zero out everything viewed as expendable by others.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice brought his business sensibility to his first State of the State address last week, painting a dire picture of trying to operate government with a steep revenue gap. His budget proposal indicated, for example, cutting the state’s share for public broadcasting, affecting such native programs as “Mountain Stage” that have not only won national recognition, but attract participation from surrounding states. “Mountain Stage” has been occasionally performed and taped at venues outside of West Virginia, such as Ohio University’s Memorial Auditorium.
While we are told federal support is only a small part of the funding package for PBS and National Public Radio, the state share is an important component along with contributions from members and supporters. The investment made in something like public TV and radio is as much of a marketing tool for the Mountain State as it is for Ohio, as regional programming reaches thousands of viewers and listeners. The same applies to cultural events, museums, parks, memorials and all of the things that usually suffer in tough economic times. These are the features that make our states unique and attract people to sample the individual delights offered by the region. Not to mention business expansion, development and tourism that generates more money for local and state government to improve the quality of life for citizens.
Yet, we admit that this chore of balancing need with available resources gets more difficult with time, especially on the local level when addressing public safety and the drug epidemic plaguing our communities. We are well aware of Huntington’s dilemma after laying off two dozen police officers and firefighters due to lack of resources. Officials in Gallipolis are again asking voters to approve an increase in the municipal income tax to properly staff and equip its police force. Even Ohio Gov. John Kasich has asked for an increase in the state sales tax to flesh out the cash supply for his two-year budget proposal. And yes, we are again asked to help maintain a level of service we’ve come to expect by digging further into our pockets. Locally, when a tax issue is on the ballot for these purposes, the decision to support it or not is yours. In Ohio and West Virginia, the choice to pass along state-level tax and fee increases lies with the wisdom of our elected representatives.
The decisions these legislators will make in the coming months will, we hope, be reached with the welfare of all citizens in mind and some consideration for the smaller things we enjoy, including such diversions as local parks and watching legislative proceedings on our PBS stations. Meeting the needs of citizens in services and infrastructure is paramount when crafting a public budget, and if reducing or doing without the niceties occurs, let it be understood that funding the basics had to come first. It is then up to us and our leadership to work toward a more prosperous situation that allows for government support of the finer points to flourish again.
Or something close to it, anyway.
Kevin Kelly, who was affiliated with Ohio Valley Publishing for 21 years, resides in Vinton, Ohio.