With the new year upon us and a legislative session (under way), let us resolve to be the bright light that shines through the darkest night for the smallest and most vulnerable of angels.
With a child poverty rate in West Virginia bordering on the absurd, with children traumatized by the sharp and jagged edges of homes shattered by the opioid epidemic, with 7,000 children living in foster homes, with abject poverty leaving children without an evening meal, with an education system that leaves too many high school graduates unprepared for either the real world or the rigors of college, with healthy outcomes a bridge too far, it’s not difficult to understand how despair has gained a foothold here in southern West Virginia.
And yet, we keep piling on.
Last year, this body voted to cut food stamps. And just last month, the Legislature’s rule-making committee moved to remove a provision of state law that requires LGBT children in protective care to have equal access to foster and adoptive families.
Beneath the rubble of ruin, of course, it is our children who suffer from adult indignities.
We appreciate that there is much to crowd the legislative calendar as lawmakers convened Wednesday in the first of a 60-day session. As legislators step into chambers and take their committee chairs beneath the gilded gold leaf dome of the Capitol, we hope they are mindful of the tarnished social and economic landscapes of decline out here in the real world and the gathering storms on the horizon.
We would call for an apolitical approach, preferring majorities of common sense, informed by research and science, working for the general welfare of the people of this state. Special interests and party dogma should be assigned a seat at the back of the bus.
First off, all lawmakers need a firm grip on reality.
Gov. Jim Justice boasted of the “great financial health” of the state in his budget review (last) Thursday. December revenue collections were $6.9 million above estimates – 1.2 percent above last December. Frankly, the numbers are far better than what meets the eye – if anyone wants to take an honest look around. And let us note that year-to-date collections are about $33.4 million below estimate or 1.4 percent below prior year receipts.
But out here, the ledger shows that there are whole counties without a grocery store and futures chained to the prospects of our industrial past. Cities are tearing down uninhabitable houses and dilapidated Main Street buildings that once housed vibrant businesses.
In 2018, West Virginia’s poverty rate was 17.8 percent, the fourth highest in the country. Among children, it was even higher – 24.9 percent.
Over 113,000 households in West Virginia, or 14.9 percent, are food insecure.
Thirty-seven of our state’s 55 counties are categorized as “distressed” or “at-risk” for food insecurity, placing each of them in the top 25 percent of the most food-insecure counties in the country.
There is much to fix in this state, but no longer should the state be bailing out coal firing plants at $12.5 million a pop as it did this past summer in special session – especially when kids are going to school hungry.
Until the state can adequately address treatment for those caught in the grip of opioid addiction or the little babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the state needs to tap the brakes on cutting a business and inventory tax that would put a $100 million hit on state revenues.
Last session, the Legislature passed a coal tax rebate program making it easier for coal mining operations to procure new equipment. Also, lawmakers passed a bill lowering the coal severance tax.
Meanwhile, about a third of West Virginia high school graduates who head off to college have to enroll in remedial English or math classes. The percentages are higher here in the southern recesses of the state.
Before legislators start giving the place away to special interests, let them first take care of the kids – and they can start with every last one of those 7,000 who are looking for a warm, welcoming and knowing embrace.
If we are a family here in the Mountain State, let’s start acting like one.
— The Register-Herald