Opinion

Column: Del. Michel Moffatt, R-22 District

Del. Michel Moffatt R-District 22
Del. Michel Moffatt
R-District 22

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Second Session of the 82nd Legislature has begun and as is customary the Governor was invited to give the State of the State address. With it being Governor Tomblin’s last address, it was even more packed than usual on the Floor of the House. The 45 minute address painted a fairly positive picture of the State, but included tax increases on cigarettes and cell phones to make up some of the deficit and the failure of Government for the last five years to fund the health insurance for public employees (PEIA).

I will say in speaking with many of my colleagues that many of us feel that the hard working West Virginians are being taxed enough and that raising taxes hurts those that can least afford it. Instead the Government needs to better manage the money that it already receives. As reported last week, the audit of the WVDOH showed a lack of systems set up to manage costs with an immediate savings of $25M-$50M if implemented, and we believe the other departments have similar room for improvement.

Two positives from the speech were the announcement of the development of the already mined portion of the Hobet mine site into the State’s largest Industrial complex, approximately 12,000 acres. If we can attract the right employers to this area, it would not only be great for the District but all of Southern West Virginia. I have reached out to the Governor’s office to offer to assist in any way that I can to make this into a reality. The second was the recognition of Judge Phil Stowers and the truancy program that he developed with a hard working team in 2010. Over the past 5 years it has reduced truancy in half in Putnam County. One example was Winter Davis, who was present. She had faced substance abuse and missed quite a bit of school, but after going through the program, she was able to attain a 3.7 GPA and zero absences before going to college. She is now an EMT and is working to become a special education teacher. I was fortunate to see the impressive work of this program last summer with the Judge and Magistrate Linda Hunt and believe it is a shining example for the State.

My big disappointment from the night though was the Governor thinking that our efforts to repeal Common Core and to allow teachers to get back to teaching, was just a “political football”. I am committed to a real repeal of Common Core, eliminating the massive data tracking, and the computer adaptive testing which is going on now. We must do better for our children. }

On Thursday, I listened in on the Finance Committee meetings, and from that I know that the State of the State is extremely troublesome. That morning we heard the Governor’s revenue projections where his team assumed that all of the tax increases and changes would go through, but in the afternoon we heard the real story about the budget for the remainder of this year and for 2016-2017. The State has borrowed $60M from the Rainy Day fund that must be paid back immediately and if the Legislature does not pass appropriation bills quickly, then we will not be able to pay bills at the end of January. We have a shortfall of $354M but an additional $27M will be needed as we don’t fully fund the budget every year, for a total of $381M. For next year, which begins July 1, we are projected to have another $466M budget gap. To solve some of the PEIA issue, the proposal is to take $43.5M from the General Revenue and once it gets matched and other funds added to it, would be $81M of the $120M shortfall that PEIA was facing. The Governor claims that, along with the new prescription drug deal that was signed will fix the issue but we are going to look into it this Session as well.

Obviously one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is our financial situation and right sizing our Government with the proper controls in place. It is not going to be an easy Session but we need to get out of this fiscal hole. Another hot topic for the week to come will be the issue of Workplace Freedom aka Right to Work and I will cover that next week. As always you can reach me at 304-397-0646, via email at [email protected], or Facebook.com/Delegate.Michel.G.Moffatt or Twitter @Moffatt4DelWV22.

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