It would have been difficult for Bob Kiss to find a worse time to get back in state government, at least from his own personal standpoint. But his fellow West Virginians should be delighted Kiss is returning.
Kiss will be heading the state Department of Revenue, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced earlier in June. He replaces Charles Lorensen, who is moving on to become Tomblin’s chief of staff.
It will not be difficult for the governor and Kiss to work together. They did so during the 1990s, while Tomblin was president of the state Senate and Kiss was speaker of the House of Delegates. After leaving the House in 2006, Kiss, of Raleigh County, went back to practicing law.
His agreement to return to government could not come at a better time for West Virginia residents.
As legislative leaders, Kiss and Tomblin were key figures during the period when lawmakers and governors left behind the old-style politics of running up huge bills for future generations to pay. They helped set the state on a path to paying down billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, rather than incurring new debts.
It is fortunate that for the past couple of decades, state officials have been engaged in that process. Our state’s balanced budgets have been the envy of officials in many other states. But times are changing, and that is where Kiss comes in.
New competition from adjoining states has cut into the pot of legalized gambling money that had made life relatively easy for state officials and taxpayers during recent years. In April alone, state revenue from legalized gambling was 12 percent lower than during the same month last year. The decline appears certain to continue, possibly to accelerate.
The state Lottery Commission is under Department of Revenue jurisdiction, so Kiss will be involved directly with legalized gambling.
More important, his expertise and conservative record in fiscal planning will come into play. Finding ways to keep the budget balanced certainly will be difficult – but with Kiss back in Charleston, West Virginians have reason to be more hopeful about the process.
Among Kiss’ first tasks, then, should be to take a close, realistic look at potential state revenue and spending for the next decade or so. Then he can advise Tomblin and legislators how to plan to live within our means – and how to make the tough decisions ahead.