- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Jan. 24

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on West Virginia’s budget deficit:

Now that West Virginia’s looming revenue shortfall has grown past $200 million for the current fiscal year - and nearly $500 million for the next year starting July 1 - the incoming Legislature has little choice but to raise taxes.



Without more revenue, the Mountain State would be forced to lay off thousands of teachers or halt mine safety inspections or eliminate the State Police or halt school lunches or cease road paving or close some state-owned colleges or wipe out other vital public services - or, perhaps, declare bankruptcy, as Detroit did.

New chief of staff Nick Casey says the state government’s condition is “the worst since the Great Depression.”

Legislators are required by the state Constitution to keep the government functioning. Surely, they won’t violate this sacred obligation just to keep their “no new taxes” pledges.

State revenue previously was reduced by $400 million by lowering taxes on corporations and the affluent. Tax-cutters claimed it would spur business and create jobs - but it didn’t work. Jobs decreased. Now, the government simply cannot be cut further.

There are two types of taxes: progressive and regressive. Progressive ones, like the income tax and property tax, force the wealthy to pay more. Regressive ones, like taxes on sales and gasoline, hit low-income families for a greater share than affluent families. Conservatives have generally favored regressive taxes.

Departing Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed raising $274 million in new revenue by adding a penny to the state sales tax and extending that tax to telecommunications services. Simple arithmetic shows that his strategy would barely meet half of the looming shortfall.

Obviously, still more revenue will be needed. We favor legalizing and taxing marijuana - and boosting the cigarette tax to $1.50 per pack (both to get revenue and save teens from lethal nicotine addiction) - and collecting more tax on sugary soft drinks, which worsen the state’s obesity epidemic. Even in those cases where sales taxes would be regressive, they would at least be on optional items, and the revenue would support services for the very people paying it.

The state Constitution requires a balanced budget. One way or another, 2017 legislators must obey this imperative.

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

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Jan. 24

The Huntington Herald-Dispatch on a new deadly drug:

The story is well-known how billions of powerful prescription pain pills such as hydrocodone and oxycodone were shipped to the Appalachian region over the last decade-plus, with a high percentage of those diverted for non-medical uses.

And we’re familiar with the following chapters, too. As authorities cracked down on “pill mills” and the street price of those drugs rose, more and more people turned to heroin. And it didn’t stop there. Now we’re hearing more and more about how heroin increasingly is being laced with even more potent drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

It seems there are an increasing number of ways people put themselves at risk. The tragic result is thousands of overdose deaths in West Virginia over the past several years, not to mention the countless number of overdoses that take place.

Now, officials in West Virginia are discovering yet another threat that’s been added to the deadly mix, even though it has been billed as a safer alternative to the drugs that started the deadly chain described above.

West Virginia Board of Pharmacy says the number of fatal overdoses in the state related to a nerve pain drug called gabapentin rose from just three in 2010 to 109 in 2015. The board expects deaths related to the drug - sold by Pfizer under the brand name Neurontin - to grow even higher in 2016 once final counts are completed. Mike Goff, a pharmacy board administrator, says addicts mix the drug with opioids or muscle-relaxants and anti-anxiety medications, a mix that causes an euphoric high but also can cause an unintentional overdose. “It’s showing up in cocktails of drugs that are showing up in overdose deaths,” he told the Charleston Gazette-Mail for a recent report.

The disturbing news comes even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has promoted the drug as a safer alternative to prescription opioids, according to the newspaper’s report, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved it for treating seizures and pain caused by shingles.

But the apparent misuse by some has made the drug lethal in too many cases.

In response, a Board of Pharmacy committee is recommending that gabapentin be designated a controlled substance - a step that would allow the pharmacy board to track prescriptions for the drug, get a better handle on how big the problem is and help identify potential abuses. If that happens, pharmacies would have to report prescriptions for the drug, a requirement that Ohio put in place starting Dec. 1.

That’s a positive action that West Virginia should follow because it might help curb the deadly toll from misuse of this drug before it becomes exponentially higher. Making the drug a controlled substance will require action by the legislature, and West Virginia lawmakers should not hesitate to do so.

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

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Jan. 25

The Inter-Mountain of Elkins on the needs of state workers:

You may remember the doom-and-gloom warnings from West Virginia bureaucrats last winter: Dare to cut our budgets, and the public will suffer.

Indeed, after legislators adopted a fiscal 2017 budget slightly smaller than that for fiscal 2016, there were cutbacks. County school systems were told they would receive less money for teachers. The State Police closed a couple detachments. The Division of Forestry laid off some people who fight forest fires.

On his way out of office, former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin presented a recommended budget for the coming fiscal year, as he is required to do. In the hundreds of pages of documents explaining his proposal, he included information on state government employees (teachers are not included; technically, they are county employees).

During FY 2016, the state had the equivalent of 41,883.86 full-time employees, Tomblin noted.

For the current fiscal year, state government was budgeted for 42,144.42 full-time employees.

Your eyes don’t deceive you. After all those terrible, allegedly devastating cuts in spending, government employment increased by more than 260 people.

Less is being done for West Virginians - but it is requiring more state employees to do it.

This has to stop.

Online: https://www.theintermountain.com/

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