- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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June 25

Register-Herald on a path forward for West Virginia:

Did you hear it? When Gov. Jim Justice announced his intention to veto a bill that would have let the state divest its interest in Jackie Withrow Hospital in Beckley - a bill that he, himself, put on the agenda for the special legislative session - he said the state needed a comprehensive plan.

Nothing piecemeal, the governor said, but a plan to deal with all seven state institutions.

Seems to us as if the governor, fresh off of failing to shape and coax an agenda through a Legislature with serious vision issues, will be spending this off season putting together plans - plural - to address the state of the state.

We think that approach is long overdue, especially urgent now with GOP health care bills - one in the U.S. Senate, one in the House of Representatives - that promise to make Medicaid as weak as prison soup.

We already know that the state will be facing yet another big-time budget imbalance next spring, if not earlier. Estimates are coming in at around $500 million.

Legislators did absolutely nothing to address that, of course, because these folks are so nearsighted they only see and deal - in predictable fashion - with what is in front of them.

They can hack a budget with the best of them. They have proven that skill time and again over the past few years. But to plan for anything long term? To see beyond the wart on their collective nose? Their heads would explode.

So, the governor is off and running and his first target is a good one. It is also challenging.

Justice is tasking DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch with the mission, and from what the secretary said on Friday, we are encouraged - at least with his approach.

“Governor Justice has asked that I prepare a comprehensive statewide plan for all of our state facilities that will benefit the patients in our care, reward our dedicated employees, and generate economic development with new construction in the communities where these facilities are located,” Crouch said.

Crouch went further, promising to consult with stakeholders - legislators, staffs, and city and county officials from areas where state hospitals are located - to determine a course of action.

Don’t kid yourself. While we would like to think that the ultimate goal would be to care for the most vulnerable among us - and that is exactly who ends up at state hospitals - we are not Polyannas. The bigger concerns in Charleston, we know, are budgetary and downsizing government. And that is why it is so important and necessary to listen to voices on the ground, of the people closest to reality who have a vested interest in this.

Further complicating Justice’s directive to Crouch is whether the federal government will effectively end Medicaid - cutting into entitlements and downsizing government at the federal level. That is the aim of the GOP health care bills. If that happens, the state will be getting far fewer dollars from the federal government.

And then, what, Legislature? More cutting? On top of the $500 million?

Gov. Justice can only do so much. (See “West Virginia Legislature, 2017”).

It’s long past time that our legislators start making plans with a trained eye on the horizon - and what’s beyond. Please, put down the butcher’s knife.

We need fresh and creative ideas on how to move forward - whether it be with privatizing our state hospitals or pursuing tax reform, more fully funding education or making the state more business friendly. And it all needs to be guided by the principles steeped in decency and integrity, fairness and common good, principles of state - not political party.

We look forward to the discussion between now and when the gavel falls to open what we hope will be a far more productive and helpful legislative session.

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

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June 27

The Herald-Dispatch on kickback scheme participants:

When individuals or companies are found to have defrauded the government, government agencies need to strike back to make sure the offenders don’t get the opportunity to do it again.

A case in point is a scheme that was uncovered in the past year involving kickbacks related to work contracted out by the West Virginia Division of Highways.

Four individuals, including two former DOH engineers, a Marshall University professor and the owner of a Putnam County contracting firm have been convicted in the scheme, which prosecutors said involved illegally diverting $1.5 million worth of DOH contracts to a South Carolina firm called Dennis Corp.

Those convictions indicate that those involved have been held accountable from a criminal standpoint. But that doesn’t mean the work is done in terms of other penalties. That was pointed out earlier this month by state Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, who sent a letter to three state agencies directing them to review any pertinent professional or contractor licenses the offenders may hold to do business in the Mountain State. Howell wants the agencies to submit reports and timelines outlining whether they have taken steps to revoke licenses of those who have been convicted, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The agencies he wrote to included the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, Contractors Licensing Board and state Purchasing Division.

What’s known at this point is that the board with oversight of engineers already had launched investigations earlier this year after the two former DOH engineers and the contractor pleaded guilty to charges against them. Presumably, the board also is now investigating the license of Andrew P. Nichols, a civil engineering professor at Marshall, who pleaded guilty earlier this month. The university said on Monday it was beginning termination proceedings against Nichols.

Some of the engineering licenses of those convicted in the case remained active as of earlier this month. An update on their status and the findings of the engineering board’s investigation should be forthcoming when the board meets next month, Engineering board President Edward L. Robinson said in a letter replying to Howell.

Let’s hope the Contractors Licensing Board and the Purchasing Division also are moving forward in their investigations and determinations about what steps to take. Two of the companies involved in the scheme still had active licenses earlier this month, and one of them has a separate contract with the state for signal maintenance.

All three agencies reviewing this matter should complete their investigations with deliberate speed and report their findings. Most importantly, they should take the fullest action possible to protect the state and the general public from falling victim to these individuals and organizations again.

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

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June 25

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on West Virginia’s budget:

A budget bill for the new fiscal year has finally been passed by lawmakers in West Virginia. Democratic Gov. Jim Justice, who is letting the budget bill become law without his signature, called the Republican-backed measure a “travesty.”

It’s not a travesty. But it is not a perfect budget bill either. Still, given the difficult financial crisis facing the state, reality dictated difficult decisions and painful budget cuts.

The new budget stands at $4.225 billion, and spends $85 million less than the current fiscal year. It also places no additional tax burdens on residents of the Mountain State, a point correctly noted last week by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson

“We will have to continue making cuts to programs and services, or we must pass meaningful, comprehensive tax reform,” Carmichael said. “It’s my hope that this responsible budget serves as the starting point for a conversation that will prove that tax reform can bring our state tremendous benefit. This budget provides security, certainty, and fiscal responsibility to the citizens of our great state.”

The new budget does not cut the K-12 school aid formula or Medicaid health care waiver programs that benefit elderly and disabled residents. It also rearranges line items including surplus funds from lottery, excess lottery and takes about $12 million from the Senate’s savings account to fill in some of the effects to Medicaid, the Register-Herald in Beckley reported.

The GOP-backed bill does not include funding for the Save Our State fund, teacher pay raises, or tourism increases, all issues advocated by Justice.

The measure also cuts the entire budget for the Women’s Commission, and makes some cuts to the Division of Culture and History and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

A government shutdown was never an acceptable option, a point correctly conceded last week by Justice. While far from perfect, the budget passed last week by the Republican-controlled Legislature is a necessary first step in righting the state’s financial ship.

Online: https://www.bdtonline.com/

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