- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:


June 24

Bluefield (West Virginia) Daily Telegraph on repeat offenders:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin says West Virginia is seeing a reduction in repeat offenders, and subsequent cost savings as a result of this welcomed news. And Tomblin says ongoing projects - like a new $1.2 million substance abuse center planned for Mercer County - will provide additional help in terms of reducing prison overcrowding and helping those who are struggling to break the chains of addiction.

Just two years ago, prison overcrowding in West Virginia was a major problem. That led to renewed discussions by lawmakers about the need for a new state prison - a project that would have increased the Divisions of Corrections budget by an additional $200 million, the Register-Herald in Beckley reported.

As expected, drug offenses have and continue to top the state’s list of prison offenses. Related crimes, including property thefts, also were tied back to the drug problem - as addicts find themselves committing other crimes just to support their drug habits.

In the two years that have since passed, improvements have been recorded.

Tomblin also successfully introduced the Justice Reinvestment Act last year, a state initiative with a goal of strengthening community-based supervision while improving the use of risk assessments of inmates with violent histories. As part of the initiative, plans are now underway to build a 60- to 100-bed substance abuse treatment facility in Mercer County. Two sites are currently under consideration for the project, including the old BB&T; building on Bluefield Avenue in the city limits of Bluefield. The project organizers also are reviewing possible locations in the Princeton area.

The good news is that we are seeing some progress. Tomblin says since last year, the state’s prison population has been reduced by 5 percent and overcrowding at state prisons has been reduced by nearly 50 percent. And the state’s current inmate population is estimated at 6,743. Two years ago, it was projected that the inmate population would climb to 7,800 by 2014. But that hasn’t been the case - at least not yet.

We are glad to see some positive progress is being made as it relates to reducing the rates of repeat offenders - and subsequent prison overcrowding in West Virginia. It is our hope that we will see a continued reduction in these statistics in the months and years ahead.

And, with hope, future drug-treatment facilities like the project planned in Mercer County can make a positive difference in reducing the near epidemic rates of substance abuse we continue to see in the coalfield counties.




June 23

Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail on state looking at Detroit’s proposal:

Anyone have a billion dollars to spare? That is how much money the municipalities in West Virginia are short of meeting their pension obligations to their police officers and firefighters.

Charleston city treasurer Victor Grigoraci detailed this problem to city council members in March. He studied the 53 separate police and fire pension plans in West Virginia.

Grigoraci found that as of July 1, 2012, they had promised their uniformed officers a combined $998,321,288 more than the cities had put aside.

The plans are 20 percent funded. Charleston’s two plans are only 6 percent and 8 percent funded.

While legislators have dedicated a tax on insurance premiums to these city plans to the tune of $17 million a year that is far from the money needed.

Cities have upped their contributions to the plans about 50 percent above normal. Employees also contribute to their retirement.

In his report, Grigoraci said that as towns and cities are subdivisions of the state, the state ultimately is on the hook. He pointed out that as the state has in the past decade fixed its worker’s compensation and medical malpractice problems, the state can fix this problem.

Legislators who regulate municipal pensions must do something. But what? An agreement by unions and city officials in Detroit gives hope.

Unions agreed to scale back the pension plans in the face of the city’s bankruptcy court proceedings.

“Detroit’s current pension system simply costs too much relative to its battered tax base, and the watchword for Detroit this summer is feasibility,” the New York Times reported last week.

But one big question is whether the city can legally cut government pensions while in bankruptcy court.

People who are willing to take a bullet for others or to rush into a burning building to save a life deserve good pay and benefits. Yes, in some cases they retire at 50 to a similar job. But they earn those pensions.

The problem is figuring out a way to pay for them. Right now, the state is a billion dollars short.



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