- Associated Press - Thursday, April 27, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 26

The Register-Herald of Beckley on state speaker Armstead’s stance regarding West Virginia’s budget plan:

Clearly, Sixteenth Century English poet and cleric John Donne never met a person quite like Tim Armstead, Republican speaker of the House of Delegates.

Donne is the guy who wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself … .” And yet that is the lonely piece of sod Armstead inhabits as legislative leaders and Gov. Jim Justice debate the state’s revenue-challenged budget for next fiscal year.

Armstead has held firm to his belief that the state must cut expenses - at all cost, no matter the collateral damage - to make the budget work. We have heard, time and again, the state must live within its means. No new tax is the only good tax for the representative from Elkview.

But, Armstead has shared no ideas on how to build an economy out of the coal ash of the state’s hard times. He has no visionary plan that simultaneously repairs a piece of the state’s failing infrastructure (let’s start with our roads and access to markets, shall we?) and puts people back to work. He has no vision for what an educational solution looks like for a state desperately in need of changing academic outcomes. He has not let on how he would keep teachers from jumping the Ohio for much better pay and benefits on the other side of the river.

In a state crippled by drug abuse, obesity and diabetes, Armstead wants to slash funding for the Department of Health and Human Resources.

Bless his heart.

No, Armstead has no plans, no vision. He simply wants to take a very large carving knife to the budget beast to find balance. Or so he says.

Well, that is a bloody fraud.

Even after cutting some $30 million from higher education - 8 percent for Marshall and West Virginia universities, alone - the Legislature’s budget bill has to go begging from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for a $90-million handout to make ends meet.

Balanced budget? Not in any accounting class with which we are familiar.

And how does such a balancing farce work to address an estimated $700 million deficit the year after next?

Well, it doesn’t. We are left with the same problem, different year, with more hardship and despair out here in the real world.

Clearly, Armstead and Senate President Mitch Carmichael are not in the same place, let alone in the same room. The Republican senator seems eager to wheel and deal, reportedly having reached an agreement with Justice as the clock ticked towards the bewitching of the regular session.

Even the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce - not exactly a boatload of free-spending liberals - has given its blessing to the temporary .00045 Commercial Activities Tax that Justice has requested from legislators.

“The least painful thing we can do is a temporary Commercial Activities Tax that will sunset,” said Steve Roberts, president of the state chamber.

“The business community recognizes that education and good health are essential to the future success of our state,” Roberts said. “Vital health and education programs are on the line, and if participation from business can save those programs our members want to be part of the solution.”

We think Armstead is in a precarious, if not untenable, position. Remember, this is the “leader” whose caucus did an end run around him to pass a medical marijuana bill.

Bottom line: The governor has a plan, a way forward for the state, and the deal he and Carmichael agreed to is the bill worth passing.

Yes, it includes some taxes, but the pain is minimal, spread across the board so that no one shareholder gets soaked.

We would advise the Speaker to stop playing the martyr, to drop his intransigence towards higher taxes and to swim back to shore and towel off.

In the short term, we need a way out of the weeds - and the governor has a plan that shows promise. Pass it, sign it and get on with business.

And if Armstead holds out and the government shuts down? Well, clearly, that is on him - alone.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/

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April 27

The Charleston Gazette on the possibility of a state government shutdown:

Will state government be forced into a shutdown July 1, when the next fiscal year begins? That ugly question hovers, because Democratic Gov. Justice and the GOP-controlled Legislature are making little visible progress toward a workable budget.

Correctly, the governor vetoed a worthless, last-minute, poverty-level budget passed by lawmakers in the final hours of the regular legislative session. That stripped-down spending plan would have slashed West Virginia education, health care, police protection, roadbuilding and other essential services.

Justice said the GOP plan would have caused “a catastrophe with higher education,” and might have forced closure of Concord University and Fairmont State University.

Ever since, Justice and GOP leaders have failed to reach a compromise plan that could be enacted by legislators in a belated special session.

“A government shutdown, in whole or in part, is a real possibility,” Delegate Mick Bates, D-Fayette, told Beckley’s Register-Herald. “It may take this, or the imminent threat of it, to get a deal done. We came within two weeks last year. I don’t see anything that indicates that it is going to be easier or better.”

Bates said Justice was justified in vetoing the Republican-passed budget because it was “structurally unsound and fiscally irresponsible.” Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, was even more scornful of the rejected budget:

“It was unconstitutional. It was out of balance. It left a flaw of eight days. We didn’t have any budget for those eight days. It didn’t go into effect until July 8.”

Traditionally, Republicans oppose all taxes - or try to shift them off the wealthy, onto working-class families. That’s a factor in the current stalemate. GOP leaders want to wipe out the state income tax, which falls mostly on high-earners, and raise the sales tax, which hits little people.

The July 1 deadline is nine weeks off. All West Virginians have a stake in what happens by then.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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April 27

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s effort to prevent voter fraud:

West Virginia’s new Secretary of State Mac Warner has found a good place to start on the broad issue of voter fraud - the actual voter rolls.

The national discussion about voter irregularities often focuses on the idea of voter impersonation, when someone not eligible to vote casts a ballot by pretending to be someone who is eligible. That is what voter ID laws are designed to prevent, although the debate continues about whether that scenario actually occurs very often.

The more common examples of voter fraud, especially in our state and region, typically involve manipulating the votes of people actually on the voter rolls.

Traditionally, the most common practice was simply “buying” votes with small bills or half-pints of whiskey. However in recent years, there have been other more complex scams, such as the Lincoln County officials who falsified more than 100 absentee ballot applications in an effort to swing a 2010 Democratic primary.

Whatever the approach, sloppy voter rolls make fraud easier, and Warner is working with county clerks in all 55 counties to clean up their files.

So far, about 47,000 outdated or ineligible voter files have been removed from registration rolls.

In West Virginia, registered voters who have made no updates to their registration and have not voted in two consecutive general elections for federal office are supposed to be removed from the county’s eligible voter list. Better coordination of registration information from the Secretary of State’s Office has helped local clerks weed out such outdated files, and Cabell County Clerk Karen Cole said last month that about 6,000 registrations had been eliminated in Cabell.

Warner’s office also has worked with the Department of Corrections to provide more up-to-date information on convicted felons. Clerks around the state have used those lists to eliminate 1,170 felons from voter files.

The Secretary of State’s Office also plans to participate in a national review of deceased voters whose death records have not have been accessible to county clerks. The office also hopes to work with other states to eliminate duplicate registrations - someone, for example, who moved away without notifying their county clerk and is now registered in West Virginia and their new home as well.

There is still no indication that West Virginia has experienced widespread fraud of any type in recent elections, but the work Warner’s office and local clerks are doing helps make any fraud attempt more difficult and improves the credibility of the whole system.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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