- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:


June 11

The Intelligencer on tax structures:

Changing a state’s entire tax structure is a laborious, time-consuming process full of pitfalls. Try to do it at the same time you are attempting to enact a new budget and the frustrations have to be incredible.

They certainly have been in West Virginia. Whether one agrees with the stances of Gov. Jim Justice and various legislators, who have myriad viewpoints on taxes and the budget, one has to give them credit for trying.

And one might think that a state government with a $4.187 billion General Fund Budget this year would have all the tools the governor and lawmakers need to get the job done.

Apparently not. For weeks, one of the questions our reporters have been asking about various proposals to change the tax structure is how much money they would raise. Getting answers has been very difficult, often impossible.

As we learned from legislators this week, that is not because any of them are trying to withhold the information. They don’t know, either.

Until a bill or bills intended to alter the tax structure is actually introduced, legislators are unable to find out how much money the plan would raise. That comes in the form of a “fiscal note” prepared by state analysts.

“It’s too much work to generate a fiscal note on something that is uncertain,” state Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, explained.

In other words, during much of the process of looking at various tax structures, legislators are operating in the dark.

No wonder it takes so long. No wonder the process is so frustrating. And no wonder that once lawmakers have a plan in the form of a bill, they are upset when it is rejected and they must start all over.

This is crazy. Surely some means exists to provide legislators with revenue estimates for various mixtures of taxes and tax rates earlier in the process of reform. Obviously, that would make the work easier and more precise for legislators - and quite likely, would benefit taxpayers.

It is too late to put such a process in place for the current round of budget negotiations. Before another year goes by, however, Justice, legislators - and the public - should demand it.

Online: https://www.theintelligencer.net/


June 12

The Herald-Dispatch on fleet management:

Another review of the West Virginia state government’s vehicle fleet was released this week. Like previous ones, it raised serious questions about the efficiency of managing those vehicles - and whether in some cases they are managed at all.

A report by the state’s Legislative Auditor found that 1,531 of about 3,600 vehicles the office reviewed were underutilized, as defined by state rules. That means they were driven less than 1,100 miles a month. The reason for that measure is that it may not make financial sense to retain a vehicle in the fleet if it’s used less than that.

Mileage on some vehicles was much less, the auditors found. They counted at least 90 vehicles with less than 500 miles per month. Even worse, mileage records showed that 31 state vehicles hadn’t been driven at all, the auditors’ report said. Clearly, that makes no financial sense.

Also troubling is that the auditors only were able to review about half of the state’s fleet, They discovered that the Fleet Management Office didn’t collect mileage data for about half of all state-owned vehicles because only vehicles that use that office’s fueling and maintenance contract reported mileage, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Can you see the problems here? The truly sad part is that they are nothing new.

In 2009, another legislative audit raised questions about the handling of state-owned cars, including the number of employees were were using state-owned vehicles to commute to and from work without reporting that to the IRS. The study found that many of those vehicles were used for very little else other than commuting. Lawmakers responded by establishing the Fleet Management Office to do a better job of monitoring the use of what then amounted to more than 6,000 vehicles.

But last year, a study by the Southern Legislative Conference, which promotes intergovernmental cooperation among West Virginia and 14 other states, showed that the Mountain State’s government owned about 7,700 vehicles, a sharp increase from the number reported years before. Relative to population, that was more than any other state in the conference and amounted to one vehicle for every five state government employees.

Clearly, the state hasn’t yet reined in this shortcoming in oversight. In light of the state’s financial troubles, economizing is essential and it appears more savings could be found through better monitoring, managing and enforcement of the rules.

This year has brought some steps toward that goal. New Gov. Jim Justice’s administration so far has put more than 300 state vehicles out of service, and the governor three months ago ordered a stop to purchasing new vehicles.

However, as the latest auditor’s report shows, the state still has many miles to travel before getting a good grip on managing its fleet of vehicles.

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


June 8

Time West Virginian on black lung funding:

The nation’s coal miners suffering from black lung disease need the best care possible.

An effort is underway to help ensure that goal is met - that those suffering from the disease get the medical care they need and the essential benefits they have earned.

Black lung disease is a debilitating, potentially fatal disease caused by long-term exposure to coal dust and impacts thousands of individuals who have played a major role in the energy economy of the United States.

A group of U.S. senators, including Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has requested the highest level of funding - $10 million - in Fiscal Year 2018 to support black lung health clinics.

In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, the senators requested the funding bill include the full authorized amount to support the clinics, which provide health screenings, medical care and assistance in securing black lung benefits.

The letter said there are 28 black lung clinics located in 15 coal mining states, including West Virginia, which, with very small grants provided by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy within the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA), serve as a lifeline for disabled miners who have spent a lifetime working in coal mines.

Joining Manchin in the letter are Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

The senators wrote, “Due to the rise in the number of miners diagnosed with black lung disease, as documented by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, we are asking you to consider providing $10 million for the black lung program.”

They continued, “We are grateful for the slight increase in the Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill; however, we also note that funding to these black lung clinics has been historically frozen and is well below its authorized level of $10 million in the Black Lung Benefits Reform Act of 1977.”

They highlighted that the clinics have faced a substantial increase in demands from coal miners for screening, diagnosis and pulmonary rehabilitation.

These needs are not now being adequately met.

“Some clinics are so underfunded that they are operating with obsolete and inefficient diagnostic equipment, which is needlessly increasing miners’ radiation dose when they receive a chest X-ray,” the senators pointed out.

“While we are aware that you are carefully reviewing budget priorities, we respectfully ask that coal miners - many of who reside in rural communities - receive the medical services and support that they need and deserve,” the letter concluded.

A relatively small commitment of funds will go a long way toward solving the problem.

Online: https://www.timeswv.com/

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