In his State of the State address, the Governor outlined many controversial and tough issues the Legislature must address this session in order to keep our State both sensitive to the needs of our citizens and solvent. Budget cuts, the 180 day school calendar, the West Virginia Turnpike and funding of our highways are perhaps the most controversial.
Just how controversial are these issues? Experience shows that the mere mention of any of these issues will immediately divide a room filled with Legislatures. The House Finance Committee is already hearing a lot of “well ... but ... though” from State agencies who know they must cut their requested budget. What often makes the budget cut process even more difficult is that State entities often have hidden funds in their budgets. These funds are included in an aggregate number on the report, but are not shown as being available for expenditure. A current rumor being circulated in the House is that one reporting entity admitted to having about $34 million (?) in such funds. Hmm, remember this is only a rumor. The bottom line. One can not be fair to all when everyone is not being forthright.
The 180-day school calender was addressed last year by the House Education Committee. Although the committee worked very had to reach an agreeable solution the session ended without a solution being reached. Unless minds have been changed or a knew idea is presented, this issue will not be readily resolved and if the Governor keeps his word, the Legislature may find itself in a special session addressing nothing but this issue. The real issue is not the number of school days, but what is best for our children and their education.
While both of the above issues are controversial, discussions about the WV Turnpike and highways funding have an immediate public reaction. Phone calls pour in and in-boxes of e-mail accounts reach into the hundreds. Everyone wants better roads, but increasing taxes and fees is not a solution. The mis-allocation/misuse of funds and inadequate safety measures of the WV Turnpike (as demonstrated in our last snowstorm) black balls the mention of toll roads as a solution.
The solution to this issue may not rest in the hands of the Legislature. The solution to this issue may be in the votes of our citizens. During the depression, an amendment was made to our State Constitution to make highway funding and maintenance a centralize (State not local government) issue. Appealing this amendment and putting local governments in charge of local roads would solve part of the problem and be a win-win. Local governments would be more responsive to the needs of local citizens. Local governments could provide local road maintenance with local dollars at a lower cost. Giving local highway issues to local governments would allow the State Department of Highways to focus on our State highway systems and allow for a more transparent State government.
Should you want to follow any of these or other issues through the legislative process, please use the Legislative website listed below. One can track bills as well as hear live streams of committee meetings and House Floor sessions.
I appreciate your interest, e-mails and visits. Your input is vital to the Legislative process.
Delegate Patti E. Schoen can be reached at 304-340-3141 or 304-415-0411, or by e-mail at pschoen@mail,wvnet.edu. For more information please check out www.pattischoen.us and www.legis.state.wv.us.