West Virginia has prided itself on fiscal responsibility in recent years.
In February 2012, for example, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill into law making West Virginia the first state in the country to have a comprehensive plan in place to address the debt created by health-care costs for future state retirees. These costs are called OPEB, which stands for Other Post-Employment Benefits.
“We in West Virginia are the first to solve it,” Tomblin said at the time. “We take the last step toward ending our long-term debts.”
Previously, the state had addressed such issues as workers’ compensation and retirement costs.
West Virginia also has a Rainy Day fund totaling $915,951,589.32 at the end of February. The fund can be tapped in the event of an emergency, and it also assures high bond ratings and resulting low interest rates when the state issues bonds for construction projects.
Ensuring the financial health of the state, though, doesn’t stop with past accomplishments. It must be an ongoing process.
In that light, with tax revenues that could lag below expectations by up to $70 million by the end of the fiscal year, Tomblin has ordered a freeze on hiring for all executive agencies under his authority. It will continue until June 30.
The governor said there will be no furloughs or layoffs, and positions funded by special revenue sources, not general revenue, will not be affected. The hiring freeze applies solely to executive agencies under the governor, and does not apply to other executive agencies, such as the attorney general or the secretary of state. It includes all cabinet agencies, the state board of education and the Higher Education Policy Commission.
“Throughout my public service career, I have advocated for and implemented plans to promote fiscal responsibility,” Tomblin said.
“While we have fared better than most states in recent years, our nation’s economic challenges continue to impact our state’s revenue collections. The plan I’m implementing ensures key government services will continue to be provided to our people, and necessary employment positions to deliver those services will be filled. This will help us ensure our financial house will remain in order at fiscal year end.”
The Associated Press reported that through the end of February, the first eight months of the fiscal year, the state’s tax collections were $35 million below expectations after being on target through last December. While that’s less than 1.5 percent of projected general revenue collections to date, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow expects the budget woes to continue before the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Muchow said money saved from the freeze would at best make up a third of the deficit.
“The hiring freeze will be one of the steps necessary in covering any type of gaps,” Muchow said. “It’s not in and of itself going to solve everything, but it’s an important component.”
Muchow said that reduced severance tax revenue from coal and gas production is the biggest issue.
“The biggest item by far is the severance tax,” Muchow said, noting it was down $39.7 million in February. “The decline in the coal industry is a little bit more severe than initially predicted, and to compound that, on the natural gas side, we were expecting an increase in revenues going into this fiscal year and instead we have received a decrease in revenues mainly because of significantly lower natural gas prices.”
Muchow expects the state will have to tap a reserve account that contains about $45 million that is used to pay income tax refunds when the state has cash-flow problems to supplement savings from the hiring freeze. Projects or discretionary spending that can be moved until the next budget year might also need to be delayed.
We’re hopeful the state’s tax revenue will pick up as the nation’s economy improves. In the meantime, we appreciate the effort to address the issue with a minimum of pain and before the problem escalates.
West Virginia has prided itself on fiscal responsibility in recent years.
Unsung heroes handling calls in emergencies are appreciated
Thankfully, we live in a community where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just by dialing three numbers — 9-1-1.
During this week, which is recognized as National Public Safety Tele-Communicator’s Week nationwide, we need to remember that on the other end of that line are the men and women here in this county who are always there in case of accident, crimes, medical emergencies and any other catastrophic event.
Message to ‘buckle up and park the phone’ is saving lives
A figure that we haven’t seen that much in recent years is the highway death toll for a given period.
Is the death toll up, down or just about the same as it was?
The West Virginia Southern Regional Highway Safety Program has announced there were 325 highway fatalities in 2013, the second-lowest number on record.
State native Burwell can ‘deliver results’ as Health and Human Services secretary
Sylvia Mathews Burwell might not be a name with which most people are immediately familiar.
For the past year, she has run the budget office under President Barack Obama.
Prior to that, she served as president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and later the Wal-Mart Foundation.
Marion scores well in recent health report but could do better
When it comes to area-wide studies, especially on health, there’s usually good news and bad news.
So was the recent report on the health of America’s counties released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently. The nationwide county study evaluated health outcomes and health factors, and ranked counties accordingly.
COLUMN: ‘Instant’ news not always reliable
That little word has a pretty big meaning. With origins that date back to the 15th century, it means urgent, current, immediate.
But think about how that word has developed over the past few decades.
Instant pudding. Instead of slaving over a hot stove for a few minutes, you can now pour cold milk and with a bit of stirring, instant pudding!
Decision to be an organ donor can save lives
Chelsea Clair watched as her father died waiting for a bone marrow transplant.
So when she met Kyle Froelich at a car show in 2009 and heard about his struggles to find a kidney that would match his unique needs, she never hesitated to offer hers to the man she just met.
Volunteers continue to have priceless impact on community
Chances are, you know someone who volunteers. Perhaps you’re a volunteer yourself.
Marion County is full of volunteers.
They read to our youth.
They assist nonprofit agencies.
They serve on boards and committees.
And in 2013, they spent a day picking up nearly 10 tons of garbage that had been tossed out on public property around Marion County.
Proposed school calendar lives up to letter and spirit of law
West Virginia state law requires that students be in a classroom for 180 days.
Strong Fairmont General Hospital badly needed to serve our region
Mere minutes often matter when it comes to emergency health care.
That’s why we need a strong Fairmont General Hospital.
When patients need the services of health-care professionals, having family and friends close at hand is often essential, and their presence may even lead to a better outcome.
COLUMN: Fairmont General Hospital vital part of community
There’s nothing better than holding a newborn baby. It gives you a little feeling that not only is everything right in the world, but this perfect little human represents hope of a future where things will be better than they are today.
I had that blessed opportunity to hold that hopeful future in my arms last week when I visited my dear friend Jen and her newborn son Tristan at Fairmont General Hospital.
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