An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — This could be labeled the Year of Unfinished Business for West Virginia legislators. They have been unable to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that begins in only about five weeks, so it should not be surprising they have not tackled a variety of other money-related matters.
One, the Public Employees Insurance Agency, was brought up a few days ago during discussions about the budget.
Lawmakers had discussed increasing the tax on tobacco products, with much of the money earmarked to bail out the PEIA. Without a big infusion of state funding, the agency will have to make severe cuts in benefits, PEIA officials have said.
After the House of Delegates rejected a 45-cent per pack increase in the tax on cigarettes – because some Democrats wanted $1 – there is some doubt about how legislators will deal with the PEIA cuts.
But before the House vote, state Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, reminded fellow legislators that even with the tax, they would not have addressed the PEIA’s root problems.
“Raising the cigarette tax is commendable, but it doesn’t fix the problem beyond the next fiscal year,” Prezioso remarked a few days ago.
Precisely. Had $43 million in new state subsidies been provided to the PEIA, it would have meant the agency would have been back at the Legislature early next year, with hat in hand.
The PEIA’s financial woes are not because legislators have been stingy in the past. To the contrary, $422 million in taxpayer subsidies – more than one-tenth of the general revenue budget – goes to the agency every year.
PEIA officials need to do more to rein in costs. Legislators have given them no reason to focus on the task. Handing them more state subsidies everytime PEIA officials seek them provides no incentive for that to happen.
So yes, put the PEIA in the “old business” section of lawmakers’ agendas. Well before budget time next year, something needs to be done about the agency.