Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

___

March 16

The Herald-Dispatch on a possible bill that would “revamp” needle exchange programs:

The harm reduction program known as the needle exchange operated by the Cabell- Huntington Health Department does good work, yet the West Virginia State Senate wants to end it.

Senate Bill 334 was approved by the Senate last week and now is in the hands of the House of Delegates. It establishes a licensing program within the Department of Health and Human Resources for harm reduction programs operating syringe exchanges.

Under SB 334, all new and existing programs would need to apply to the Office for Health Facility Licensure and Certification. Programs would need approval of the county commission and the county sheriff. They would be required to pay an application fee and have a 30-day comment period before they could go into effect.

Programs would be required to offer a full array of harm reduction services, such as HIV testing, not just syringe exchanges. Any current program offering just syringe services would cease operation six months after passage of the bill.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician, called SB 334 an anti-harm reduction and said 16 programs in the state would cease to operate under the bill. Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, lead sponsor of the bill, defended the legislation by saying “bad actors” in the state need to be held accountable. He railed on needle litter and said law enforcement officials were in favor of the bill to deter crime.

The fact that this legislation would end the existing program in Huntington and Cabell County and replace it with a new one is particularly concerning. The program operated by the Cabell-Huntington Health Department appears to be working.

Complaints about needles being found in parks or on curbs have practically vanished, as the program requires a one-for-one exchange. But senators apparently preferred to go with hearsay over experience. Yes, there are anecdotes of stray needles here and there in West Virginia, but during debate on the bill specific incidents or statistics didn’t enter into consideration.

Senators apparently have a goal of reining in the powers of local health departments to implement programs or enact ordinances without the approval of local governing bodies. That’s how many public spaces became smoke-free, a situation most people prefer. However, there is something to the idea that ordinances should be enacted by elected officials, not people who do not answer directly to voters — thus the provision in SB 334 that gives county commissions and sheriffs veto power over harm reduction programs.

Absent in much of this is the voice of the person who uses syringe exchange programs. Would this legislation help them or harm them?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people who inject drugs and use syringe exchanges are more likely to enter treatment for substance use disorder and stop injecting than those who don’t use an exchange.

The House needs to take a thorough look at this bill, but it also needs to look at programs that have worked, such as the one here, and at SB 334’s probable effects on people needing help before it goes along with the Senate’s action.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

___

March 15

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Gov. Jim Justice, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.:

There have been plenty of local and even national takes on the “feud” between West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. It’s been blown a bit out of proportion, and, at least recently, seems a bit one-sided.

Both men are in the national spotlight right now. Justice is making frequent appearances on national cable news outlets to tout West Virginia’s comparative success to the rest of the country in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. Manchin, meanwhile, has become the most important member of the U.S. Senate, as the only real swing-vote Democrat in a 50-50 chamber, with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaker giving Manchin’s party a one-vote majority.

Justice has taken public swipes at Manchin, some over the latter’s initial hesitancy about aspects of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. Other attacks have been more arbitrary, typically occurring during Justice’s pandemic briefings, with the governor crowing about his reelection, the GOP supermajority in the West Virginia Legislature and the party’s dominance of state constitutional offices.

Manchin’s replies as of late have basically been the equivalent of a basketball player putting their hands in the air and pleading “Who, me?” after being whistled for a ticky-tack foul. His consistent calls to put divisions aside and work together raise questions about why this is being classified by some as a fight.

What did Manchin ever really do to Justice, other than make him governor? Some might have forgotten, but Justice was elected in 2016 as a Democrat, hand-picked by Manchin and, thereby, the West Virginia Democratic Party, as the heir to the line started by Bob Wise and continued by Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin.

The bad blood began when Justice publicly switched parties at a rally for then-President Donald Trump in Huntington, not even a year into Justice’s first term. No doubt, Manchin felt betrayed, and he lobbed plenty of criticism at Justice. But can anyone putting themselves in Manchin’s shoes really blame him? The kingmaker had chosen poorly, and was stabbed in the back.

Things got worse in early 2018, after Justice fired Manchin’s wife, Gayle, from her post as secretary of Education and the Arts. Then, Manchin started thinking about leaving the Senate to come back and challenge Justice in the 2020 gubernatorial race. Both were exchanging pot shots here and there by 2019, although Justice let loose some real broadsides, as he began blaming Manchin for just about all of the state’s problems. Manchin ultimately decided to stay in Washington, and Justice handily won reelection amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justice seems to view the November election as a repudiation of Manchin, although Manchin was not his opponent, nor was he on the ballot for the Senate. He won’t be again until 2024.

It’s Justice who can’t seem to resist the occasional anti-Manchin tangent. Chalk it up to his notoriously thin skin. Even when he’s getting national public press that can only be viewed as positive, there is a part of Justice that can’t let it be, especially if Manchin also is getting a good deal of coverage because of his sudden importance in the Senate.

Justice is incapable of accepting victory without some amount of spite. As the governor has said more than once, when comparing West Virginia’s vaccination success to states that aren’t faring so well, “I love rubbing it in their faces.” That’s a strange statement, considering other states’ struggles mean more Americans are getting sick and dying, but it tells you something about the man saying it.

Some have insisted that Justice and Manchin need to grow up and get along. The two did meet last week to “clear the air.” But one is already a grown up and hasn’t been doing much ant-hill kicking lately, at least where the governor of his home state is concerned. The other isn’t capable of purging certain grievances, real or imagined.

At the end of the day, the pair don’t have to like each other, as long as they’re both doing what’s best for the people of West Virginia in a still-turbulent time, with egos firmly in check. That last part might be the real challenge.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

___

March 13

The Register Herald on proposed legislation to eliminate personal income tax:

Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed legislation to eliminate the personal income tax in West Virginia cannot find a friend – for myriad reasons – on either side of the political aisle or out here in the real world among business types in suits and overalls. His proposal, at least for the moment, seems dead on arrival.

Good.

We see Big Jim’s big idea as nothing new and nothing more than an audacious shifting of the tax burden in this state from wealthy people like the governor himself to those who are already struggling to find coins in the cushions to put dinner on the table.

When Justice drew the curtains back on his proposal to make broad and profound changes to the state’s tax code, he also had to show us that he was hiking a number of other taxes including a bump to the sales tax that would push it to 7.9%, the highest of any state in the nation.

But, more importantly, the tax policies that the governor is proposing would be to ask more from working families and the working poor via regressive taxing schemes to enable the state to lessen the tax burden on the rich.

Personal income tax revenues account for about $2.1 billion of the state’s tax base, a little less than half of the General Fund that pays for government services across the board.

According to the governor’s plan, personal income tax reductions will total $1.036 billion – initially – and minuscule rebates to low-income people will total $52 million. To make up the nearly $1 billion difference? Other tax hikes.

So, Justice is proposing to raise taxes on soft drinks and tobacco, beer and wine. And, for the first time, the state would be taxing some professional services, according to the Justice plan, including law offices, accountants, gyms and more. The governor also wants a “luxury tax” on some items – including clothing, electronic equipment, appliances, boats, ATVs and snowmobiles and more – costing somewhere north of $5,000.

If you think, like the governor, that the cost associated with those new taxes – on services or sales items – will not be passed along to consumers? Your thinking, like this plan, is flawed.

Finally, Justice wants a sliding scale for severance taxes for coal, oil and natural gas, paying more when markets are better. If, of course, that day ever arrives.

If not, coal barons, like Justice, would pay less.

Again, in case anyone had forgotten, Gov. Jim Justice is the richest person in the state.

In short, the governor’s tax proposal is half-baked, at best. Most troubling is that the governor would introduce a series of new taxes only to provide relief to the state’s most wealthy via the elimination of the state’s income tax.

At this stage of Justice’s tenure in the governor’s office, this looks like little more than Big Jim greasing the skids of the state’s tax code to benefit himself.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/