The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 31, 2013

Tomblin rejects advisory council idea for funding drug treatment

Governor: Still committed to addressing problem

CHARLESTON — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is rejecting recommendations that he fund solutions to West Virginia’s growing drug problem by tapping the state’s $913 million rainy day fund and raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes.

Spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin tells the Charleston Daily Mail that Tomblin won’t embrace those two suggestions from the Advisory Council on Substance Abuse, which he organized in 2011, but he is committed to addressing the problem.

A council report released last week made nine recommendations, including two aimed at building treatment centers for some 150,000 addicts. The experts said raising cigarette taxes could create revenue for prevention or recovery programs.

But council member Rick Staton says he didn’t expect Tomblin to embrace the ideas.

The Wyoming County prosecutor and former legislator said the council understood funding decisions were Tomblin’s to make, and rejecting the proposal isn’t a “deal breaker.”

“I anticipate there will be some funding,” Staton said, “even if there’s not funding mechanisms.”

The council also recommended: giving local police more power to enforce alcohol control laws; reducing the flow of paper money to welfare recipients through debit cards; finding alternatives to driver’s license revocation for people who don’t pay fines so they can remain employed; and measuring the outcomes of state-funded drug treatment programs.

Experts have linked a variety of problems, including child abuse and overcrowded prisons, to the state’s drug problem

But Tomblin won re-election last fall after pledging not to raise taxes.

Shuler Goodwin says the governor has already put $7.5 million into substance abuse treatment programs, actions praised by state court system administrator and council member Steve Canterbury.

There isn’t enough money to fill all the gaps in service, he said, “but the governor did direct, I think, a good strategic sum to fill those gaps where they are most needed.”

The state may also be able to redirect money if it embraces changes aimed at reducing the jail and prison population.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a project of the nonprofit Council of State Governments, says West Virginia could avoid $340 million in increased spending by carefully assessing offenders when they enter the criminal justice system and ensuring they’re supervised once released.

These researchers believe their package of recommendations can slow prison population growth between 2014 and 2018, avoiding the need to spend an estimated $200 million building a new prison and $140 million operating it during those five years.

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