By March 18, 2017 Read More →

Opinion: Skeletons in W.Va. Budget Closet

By Mike Myer

The Wheeling News-Register

There is really good money to be had in the good Samaritan business. Cruising the highways and stopping occasionally to help motorists who have run out of gasoline, had flat tires or other problems can net you millions.
 Ask Robert Martin, president of the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia. The CCCWV, based in Beckley, is a nonprofit organization, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Like so many of the ways politicians find to spend our money, the West Virginia Courtesy Patrol sounds like a wonderful thing. Operated by the CCCWV, the program provides jobs for people who patrol some Mountain State highways, helping motorists in distress.

Legislators are primed to pull the plug on the Courtesy Patrol, however. The House of Delegates already has approved eliminating it from next year’s budget.

For years, the budget has included appropriations in the $3 million to $4 million range for the Courtesy Patrol. Advocates say it provides jobs and is a great service for motorists.

It also has provided a nice income for Martin, who is president of the CCCWV.

Nonprofits such as the CCCWV are required to file Form 990 reports with the IRS every year. The last one I could find, for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, showed Martin was paid $340,808. His annual income from the organization has fluctuated wildly, from a low of $214,110 to a high of $383,046 during the 10 years of 990s I checked. The average for the decade was nearly $295,000.

The CCCWV has plenty of money to cover Martin’s salary.

During the five fiscal years ending June 30, 2015, the CCCWV’s expenses for the Courtesy Patrol were a total of $15,850,511, according to 990 forms. Revenue to support the program — all of it from government — totaled $19,780,987 for the period. That’s a gain of more than $3.9 million.

One might have thought that sometime during the CCCWV’s lucrative relationship with taxpayers, someone would have looked at the 990s and suggested the Courtesy Patrol could get by with less state funding.

According to its filings with the IRS, the CCCWV’s mission is “to provide job training and opportunities to underprivileged individuals.” It operates several programs, most related to conservation. But the Courtesy Patrol is by far the biggest, involving far more money than all the others combined.

It would be nice if I could refer to my research as exposing skeletons in West Virginia’s budget closet. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Some legislators have suspected for years that the state wasn’t getting its money’s worth out of the Courtesy Patrol.

So why are lawmakers just now pulling the plug on the Courtesy Patrol? That’s an excellent question. It brings up another one:

How many other skeletons are in the state budget closet?

Tidbits from the Legislature:

Both state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, went out of their way to praise Democrat legislators the other day, during a breakfast sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association.

Armstead remarked that one reason he and House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, work well together is that they’ve walked the proverbial mile in each other’s shoes. Armstead explained that to his knowledge, this is the first time in the history of the Legislature that the House speaker has served for a time as minority leader, and vice versa.

Knowing the challenges of leading both the minority party and the majority party would help, I suppose.

Here’s one I ought to have known years ago: Want to know the number of the bill used by the House for the state budget? You don’t have to ask. Traditionally, the number is the fiscal year for that budget. Thus, this year’s budget bill is HB 2018.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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