- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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May 18

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg on a tobacco tax:

Lawmakers in Charleston are working to hash out a state budget that is problematic, to say the least. Among the problems is shrinking revenue, a trend not likely to reverse any time soon. Because the budget crisis has reached a level that requires both spending cuts and a search for new sources of revenue, it may be time for legislators to consider means they had hoped to avoid.

For example, it may be time for that $1 increase to the tobacco tax. It has been estimated that doing so would bring in $100 million to $115 million annually.

Critics have suggested raising the tax is a punishment to poor people - smokers with more money will feel less of a pinch when they buy a pack. But the counter to that is simple. Smoking is a habit, and can be broken. In fact, some proponents of the bill suggest it would help people to quit; one woman reportedly claimed she “guaranteed” an extra dollar per pack would be the motivator that finally forced her to quit smoking. And, while it is not entirely clear a $1 increase would be punitive enough to force many people to quit smoking, it is much more likely to keep young people from getting started in the first place.

Meanwhile, small businesses in most counties bordering other states need not be as concerned as opponents to the increase suggest. West Virginia’s tobacco tax is already 55 cents; the increase would make it $1.55. That is still five cents per pack lower than Ohio’s or Pennsylvania’s $1.60; and 45 cents lower than Maryland’s $2. (Yes, Kentucky’s tobacco tax is 60 cents; and Virginia’s is an appalling 30 cents - already much lower than the Mountain State’s, and, in fact, the lowest in the country).

For a larger comparison, the median tobacco tax rate in the U.S. is $1.53; but in New York, the tax truly is punitive, at $4.35. West Virginia’s proposed $1.55 begins to sound downright reasonable.

Politicians concerned about having their names associated with a tax increase will likely find as many cuts as possible, first - and eliminating genuine government waste is essential to this process. But economic realities mean revenue increases of some kind are inevitable. Raising West Virginia’s tobacco tax may be an idea whose time has come.

Online:

https://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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May 17

The Exponent Telegram on combating illegal drug use:

We all know illegal drug use remains a major issue in North Central West Virginia and much of the Mountain State.

While we all are aware of street drugs like heroin, cocaine and marijuana, the illegal use of prescription medication is often more prevalent, but none the less damaging.

That’s why we’re pleased to see the Drug Enforcement Agency establish a Tactical Division Squad that will target prescription drug abuse.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, said in announcing the new squad that she “believes that the prescription drug problem across the state is ransacking us.”

“It’s ruining lives,” she said.

Capito, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, which provided funding for the squad, said area cities and law enforcement asked for additional support, which helped spur the unit’s formation.

The squad will provide support in the form of education, law enforcement and other means, officials said.

“What affects Clarksburg affects the country as well,” said Melvin Patterson, of the DEA’s Public Affairs department. “The growing drug abuse epidemic is something that needs to be addressed immediately.”

Patterson said area residents will have opportunities to learn more about the dangers of the misuse of prescription narcotics.

“Not only will they learn the proper usage of prescription drugs, but also what to look for in teens, kids and other adults in regard to abuse,” Patterson said. “It will empower Clarksburg residents to work hand-in-hand with state and local officials to report irregular activity.”

The squad will work with medical officials to insure proper prescribing, handling and destruction of unused medications, officials said, with Capito emphasizing that law enforcement will receive additional training “to target cases and follow up on leads.”

“This will be very beneficial when working with local resources,” she said.

The veteran lawmaker expects the Tactical Division Squad to be fully operational by the end of the year, with some activity beginning within the next three months.

“I anticipate more arrests and hopeful eradication of prescription drug abuse,” Capito said. “When we conquer this problem, we will not only have to dry up the supply but also the desire.

“We have been working with treatment options. However, this is the part that works to get supply under control. This is the first step to combating the serious prescription drug abuse epidemic in West Virginia.”

Capito should be applauded for her efforts, as should fellow Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Rep. David McKinley, R-West Virginia, who have also called for additional assistance in North Central West Virginia and the entire state.

It was McKinley who back in November met with the DEA’s then acting administrator and called for the establishment of the Tactical Diversion Unit.

Working together, our leaders and the DEA have provided much needed resources to local law enforcement that we believe will have a positive impact on the effort to combat illegal drug use.

Online:

https://www.theet.com/

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May 15

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on the state’s budget deficit:

Now that the closely watched primary election is over in West Virginia, lawmakers must turn their attention to working on a long-delayed state budget. The Mountain State is still facing a $270 million budget shortfall due to significant decreases in coal and gas severance tax revenues, and time is running out to plug this deficit. The next fiscal year begins July 1.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling the Republican-led legislature back into session on May 16 to address the budget issue. Tomblin, a Democrat, says he expects lawmakers to stay in Charleston until they pass a budget.

But there is still widespread differences between lawmakers and Tomblin over how to address the budget shortfall. Tomblin is calling for tax increases, including a relatively large hike in tobacco taxes. He’s also seeking tax increases on sales, e-cigarettes, and cellphone and landline use. But many Republican lawmakers prefer deeper budget cuts, and the use of reserve state funds to help plug the deficit.

It is clear that some of Tomblin’s proposals, including tax increases on sales, cellphones and landlines, are sure to be unpopular. But the state’s financial picture also is not improving. The most recent state revenue numbers from the month of April show a continued decline. In fact, the latest numbers were $72.2 million below estimates, and personal income revenue estimates were off by more than $44 million. April is historically the state’s biggest month for income tax collections, according to Deputy Secretary of Revenue Mark Muchow.

Muchow reported that coal severance is down more than 30 percent from last year, and natural gas severance fell 50 percent. And even with a slight improvement in oil severance, that sector paid 60 percent less in severance taxes than last year, Muchow told the Register-Herald in Beckley.

Clearly tough decisions are going to have to be made, and we believe there will need to be room for compromise with a little give and take on both sides.

Yes, there is still plenty of room to cut in state government. But there are also many areas, including law enforcement, that shouldn’t be cut. There could be room for compromise on tax hikes on tobacco and e-cigarette products. And the proposed tobacco tax increase may not be as big of a hang-up in Bluefield or Princeton as it could be in say Beckley or Charleston. That’s because many people in the greater Bluefield area cross the state line into Virginia to buy cigarettes where they are currently cheaper. And this is not a new development, as people have been crossing the state line for years to buy tobacco products in neighboring Virginia. A higher tobacco tax hike in West Virginia could send even more people across the state line border for their unhealthy fix.

But it is worth noting that some good could possibly come out of an increase in tobacco taxes. With hope, such an increase would encourage more young people to kick this unhealthy habit.

It’s certainly something to think about when it comes to plugging this growing budget deficit.

Online:

https://www.bdtonline.com/


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