- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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July 3

Charleston Daily Mail on the need for modernization of West Virginia’s toll roads:

Drive on new toll roads in other states, and in many lanes, vehicles barely need to slow down, much less stop to pay the toll. In some states, that applies even to vehicles without an EZPass electronic toll collection system.

But in West Virginia, drivers have to stop and pay a toll - in cash - unless they have an EZPass. Yet still, EZPass holders have to slow to a crawl to get through the toll booth.

And on the heaviest traffic days around holidays and vacation periods, the West Virginia Parkways Authority sometimes opens all toll booths for cash toll collection - even the EZ Pass lanes - slowing the trip for all drivers and creating long, time-consuming lines of backed up traffic.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Traffic should be able to flow quickly and safely through toll booths on the West Virginia Turnpike just as it does on modern toll highways in other states.

In Massachusetts, for instance, the toll booths don’t take cash. Drivers simply drive through. Those with EZPass transponders pay via EZPass, while “gantry cameras” capture the license plates of vehicles and the state bills the vehicle owner by mail.

No stopping, no hassles, no cash needed.

When Massachusetts made the necessary changes and implemented the system last year, officials noted the benefits: reduced congestion, reduced pollution, increased fuel efficiency for travelers, fewer accidents at toll plazas and faster commute times.

New tollways in Texas operate the same way, and surely many other states have them as well. There’s no reason West Virginia shouldn’t modernize its toll collection process too.

Sticking with the current system of cash only - stopping to hand cash to a toll collector, is outdated, not as safe and - considering about three-fourths of Turnpike revenue comes from out-of-state vehicles - an indication to out-of-state visitors that West Virginia is not up to modern times.

It will take capital improvements to implement a new system, but the increased efficiency and lower cost of operation in the long run should make the system more than pay for itself.

Critics of modernization will point out that toll booth collectors would no longer be needed, cutting state jobs. True. But is it the role of the Turnpike Authority to provide jobs for toll collectors in southern West Virginia or operate a modern, safe, efficient highway system?

With the Legislature extending the ability of the Turnpike authority to charge tolls well past the payoff of current bonds in 2019, the West Virginia Turnpike Authority should bring its toll collection methods up to today’s standards as well.

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

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July 2

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on state lawmakers announcing they wouldn’t keep their pay for attending a special legislative session:

A lot of taxpayers likely agree with West Virginia Del. Rodney Miller of Boone County regarding his assessment of the recently concluded special session of the West Virginia Legislature.

Miller, a Democrat, was among a few members of the House of Delegates who announced last week that they would not keep the pay they are set to receive for attending the 21-day special session necessitated by difficulties in approving a state budget for the fiscal year that began Saturday. Instead, he and the others said they would donate that money to charitable organizations in their communities.

In a news release from the House, Miller explained that he could not accept his pay from the special session in good conscience because he felt like the special session was a waste of money. “I’m happy to join my colleagues in doing the responsible thing in order to do good things in our communities,” Miller said. Among others who said they would take similar actions were Dels. Scott Brewer of Mason County, Barbara Fleischauer of Monongalia County and Josh Higganbotham of Putnam County.

Those plans to support good works in their communities are admirable. The delegates also are to be credited for recognizing that for the second year in a row the legislature failed to accomplish its primary mission - setting a budget - in a timely fashion.

Unfortunately, those foregone salaries won’t be going to the proper destination. The state’s taxpayers are the ones who have been shortchanged by the legislature’s inefficiency, and that special-session pay should go back to state government.

However, West Virginia law does not provide a way for lawmakers to forego a salary outright, thus the alternative of donating to charity.

The state’s legislators could fix that if they had the will to do so.

For two years in a row now, the legislature and the governor in office at the time have been unable to come to agreement on a budget either during the regular legislative session or the traditional two- to three-day budget session that usually follows in the next week.

That has cost taxpayers a lot of money. The estimated cost of salaries and other expenses tied to this year’s special session is about $650,000. Last year’s 17-day special session cost nearly $600,000. So more than $1.2 million was spent while lawmakers struggled to figure out a way to deal with the state’s severe financial predicaments. That hardly makes sense.

A bill introduced in this year’s regular session, if enacted, could curb such costly damage in the future if the legislature goes into an extended special session. House Bill 105 would limit lawmakers’ salary to five days of a special legislative session even if the session ran longer. The legislation died in committee.

It would be surprising if a majority of legislators chose to limit their salaries for attending special sessions. But revising state law so that individual lawmakers could return their pay to the state if they wished seems like a worthy alternative. Then that money would go where it should - paying back taxpayers for a job NOT well done.

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

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June 29

The Register-Herald of Beckley on U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito’s opposition of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act:

We applaud Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, for bucking party leadership, advocating for the citizens of West Virginia and voicing her opposition to the Senate GOP’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Her stance, along with reservations expressed by several other Republican senators, forced Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, to delay a planned vote on the bill this week before Congress heads out of town for the holiday weekend.

Good for her.

We would be remiss not to give credit to Sen. Joe Manchin, too. The senior senator from West Virginia - a Democrat standing on the opposite side of the aisle from Capito - has been a strong voice against what the Republicans have been planning.

But for Capito, the political risk is greater. Not only, like Manchin, does she represent a state that Donald Trump carried in the presidential election with nearly 80 percent of the vote, but she could have been - still may be - the make-or-break Republican vote in denying or affirming the president’s first major legislative triumph.

Thankfully, Capito knows the social fabric of her home state.

Here in the Mountain State alone, nearly two hundred thousand people would be left without health coverage, rural hospitals would be closed, the opioid crisis would accelerate and the state’s economy would be crippled by the poisonous elixir McConnell is cynically trying to pitch like an itinerant carnival barker without an ounce of credibility to his name.

Make no mistake: Mc-

Connell and his henchmen, without apology and in secret planning sessions, are trying to kill a federal entitlement - Medicaid - while giving a huge tax break to the very wealthy.

Yes, GOP plans, one in the House and one in the Senate, would reward the wealthy and punish the poor, the elderly and the sick - our most vulnerable and politically powerless populations.

While we agree that “Obamacare” has issues to fix, we would like to think that we have seen the last of this particular piece of heartless legislation.

To her credit, Capito stared down the political pressure and said, “No.” That takes courage, confidence and a steely spine - and it’s something we see too rarely in D.C.

We trust Sen. Capito will stand firm in the face of fire - certain to come - as McConnell tries to rescue the bill by twisting arms, making threats and handing out favors totaling billions in taxpayer dollars as if they were pieces of candy from his personal stash.

It is arrogant, it is selfish, it is self-serving and it does absolutely nothing to fix what ails our national health care.

Already on Wednesday, McConnell was scrambling to win over senators with an estimated $200 billion in savings from the bill. He will try his level best to push this thinly disguised piece of legislation through the Senate - no matter the cost, no matter the collateral damage.

Politics, not policy, rules McConnell’s world. For him, party trumps country.

We would like to think our politics aren’t so far into the tank that compromise and consensus can’t be built from the middle out - rather than from the extreme philosophical fringes in.

We would like to think that a big and important national issue like health care could be addressed in honest, rigorous and spirited debate - out in the open, not behind closed doors - with effective policy serving as a lasting prescription.

And to that end, Capito’s stated position is a ball tossed in that direction.

In comments delivered via a press release on Tuesday, Capito said, “As drafted, this bill will not ensure access to affordable health care in West Virginia, does not do enough to combat the opioid epidemic that is devastating my state, cuts traditional Medicaid too deeply, and harms rural health care providers.”

Seems to us that would be a good place to start the conversation.

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

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