The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 5, 2013

New normal?


— Doing more with less has been a way of life for many of us in southern West Virginia over the years.

It’s been a search for bargains, economizing in the kitchen and, in a lot of households, putting off some purchases that many families would not have thought twice about in years past.

It isn’t surprising that state and local officials, too, are entering a bargain-hunting phase.

There’s good reason for them to be doing so. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Wednesday that the state is considering mid-year budget cuts to attempt to offset tax collections that are $57.4 million below projections for the fiscal year that started July 1.

In addition, the bond rating service Standard & Poor’s downgraded its outlook for the state School Building Authority’s excess lottery revenue bonds to negative. That means there’s a one-in-three possibility that it could lower the bonds’ ratings from AAA within two years because of declines in gaming revenues.

Gaming revenue from West Virginia’s four racetrack casinos has been hurt by competition from casinos in bordering states. A large portion of the Excess Lottery Fund’s revenue, which helps pay off some state agency bonds, is generated by racetrack video lotteries, The Associated Press reports.

These are not signs of a fiscal apocalypse for the state, at least not yet. But they do indicate a need to explore new ways to fund agencies and programs.

So it is with some satisfaction that we see some local and state officials exploring money-saving options such as private prisons and the Raleigh County Commission’s debate on consolidating some public service districts.

We need to know more about the specifics of sending inmates to private prisons, whether they would get access to the proper rehabilitative programs and whether their due process rights are assured, before we endorse the plan.

Department of Corrections spokesman Lawrence Messina said that controlling or limiting costs are keys to the DOC thinking, but insists the agency has no intention of stockpiling state prisoners in substandard facilities in other states.

As for consolidating PSDs, anything county officials can do to eliminate the duplication of services and be more efficient is to be applauded, as long as service levels remain acceptable and safe.

County Commissioner Pat Reed noted that, despite operational improvements, the county has had to supplement the funding of Glen White-Trap Hill PSD for 11 years.

“That’s why if we have one organization that would take care of all this, we could cut the (overall) cost tremendously,” Reed said.

Is this the new normal for how we decide to allocate funds for expensive but critical governmental agencies and services? Perhaps it is, at least for the present and the foreseeable future.

We’re pleased that our state and local officials are recognizing what many southern West Virginia families have known for some time.

And that’s how to find innovative ways to live well, even with those tighter budgets.