MOUTH OF THE ELK - Purse Tightening And Criminal Conspiracy

(08/12/2002)

Bob Weaver

RE-ARRANGING THE BIG BUCKS - Those who have depended on the Budget Digest to fund local projects, may want to lower their expectations for next year. Digest funds got cut millions of dollars this year, and will likely be cut more next year.

Gov. Bob Wise has announced an additional 10% budget cut starting in July, 2003.

The use of Budget Digest funds are becoming more restrictive, requiring some new rules for accountability. While the famous West Virginia pork fund is just that, particularly for incumbents, it has been used for some worthy causes and projects, including "survival" efforts in poor, rural counties.

The Digest moneys are doled out mostly according to the population of a county, which appears to happen in Calhoun, although if a delegate or senator can be well connected to the house or senate leadership, they could get money from the Digest to build a new college or the like - million dollar grants.

Calhoun has generally been getting something over $200,000 annually from the Digest.

The belt tightening becomes a little disturbing when Gov. Wise gives a member of his administration a $50,000 raise, and the Economic Development Director, David Satterfield, a former bandmaster, receives $175,000. That agency has rarely been able, after spending millions of dollars, to validate their existence.

It does circulate taxpayer money.

Don't forget the expansion of government buildings and jobs around the state. In a world that is driven by high-tech tools and efficiency, West Virginia is expanding the Department of Motor Vehicles to communities, big buildings and more employees. Soon we may have thousands of workers issuing plates, registrations and licenses. We may have that many now.

Gov. Wise does intend to raise some money to cover next year's $200 million shortfall, which he says could reach $300 million. An increase in cigarette taxes could help a little, so look for that to happen, although suggestions to raise tax on alcohol to fund efficient, low-cost treatment programs and half-way houses falls to the side. The distillers lobby is about 100 proof.

GRASS ROOTS OUTCRY - The leadership in the West Virginia legislature and certainly the coal interests have said West Virginians were not well educated on the overweight coal truck issue, which recently failed to pass during a special session.

A grass roots reaction to the issue has created a political problem for legislators, and some of them may find themselves becoming losers during the next election.

Most West Virginians are wearing thin on caving to the coal interests. The 12 Republicans voted against raising the weight limits. Del. Bill Stemple was among the few regional delegates who voted to increase the coal weight limits.

There seems to be little discussion among the lawmakers regarding head turning and violation of law during the past two administrations. The whole debacle is a criminal conspiracy to skirt the laws of West Virginia, and under most circumstances, violators would be held accountable. This is different, with behind the scenes manipulation.

It is likely the same bunch will return with another punch, and try and increase the weight limits for trucks.

WEST NILE VIRUS ON THE MOVE - After a few post-mortems of birds in West Virginia, the presence of the West Nile Virus is a fact for West Virginians.

I thought about it last night, writing for The Herald, when a large mosquito landed on my arm. I quickly crushed it, but began to thing of what might happen in the next months or years with the disease, concerned my old farm pond has some stagnant water.

State health officials are expected to develop a plan, which may become crucial to protect our families.


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