Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, on West Virginia's government transparency website:
When state officials launched a new website, http://www.wvtransparency.org, in September 2011, they were praised, and deservedly so. The site marked a quantum leap in openness about how taxpayers' money is spent in West Virginia.
Now it is history. Visitors to the site see a notice that feeds of information to it from state agencies have been suspended. The site remains in operation only "for historical purposes."
The interruption occurred because state government is making a major change in how it handles data electronically. Officials say that eventually, that will result in an even better transparency website.
In its old form, the site was impressive. It provided an incredible amount of detailed information on state spending. It was searchable, meaning users could enter the name of a person or company and learn how much the state had paid out under that name.
Previously, such information could be obtained only by reviewing paper records, sometimes through time-consuming searches.
Officials say that once the work of upgrading the site is complete, it will offer all that information and much more. For example, users will be able to find out precisely what was obtained and at what cost under specific purchase orders.
If that happens, Mountain State residents will have every reason to be pleased with the change. But simply because of the quality of the old website, delays in getting the new one operational and any glitches in using it will not be pleasing to West Virginians who have become accustomed to transparency. For that reason, state officials should make the new site one of their top priorities in the major data processing changeover.
Inter-Mountain, Elkins, West Virginia, on state government spending:
West Virginians cannot afford for state finances to be handled the same way some people manage their money.
You know the type: Toward the end of pay periods at their workplaces, they run short of cash. So they cut expenditures. But when they get paid, it's off to the spending races until, inevitably, they run short again.
Several months ago, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered a freeze on hiring at most state agencies. It had become clear revenue was running behind projections. The state had to save some money in order to keep the budget in balance.
When the fiscal year ended June 30, the books were nearly balanced. That happened only because of emergency actions taken by the Legislature and Tomblin. The hiring freeze helped.
Now we are in a new fiscal year, with a new budget. And state Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss says the hiring freeze will remain in effect.
No doubt some agency heads are grousing about that. It is a new budget year, after all, and they would like to be hiring people to fill vacancies.
But Tomblin and Kiss are right. This year's budget will be balanced only through extraordinary measures. Now is no time to take a break from strict discipline over spending.
Bluefield Daily Telegraph, on the King Coal Highway:
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to add the King Coal Highway project to West Virginia's six-year highway improvement plan. It is a logical request, and one that Tomblin should act promptly on.
The Coalfields Expressway project is already included in West Virginia's Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan, but the King Coal Highway — the local route of the future Interstate 73/74 corridor — is not included in the six-year plan. But it most certainly should be. Being in the state's six-year plan would make the project eligible for additional state and federal funding, including future TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants. Getting the King Coal Highway in the six-year transportation plan also would help in terms of jump-starting the long-delayed Mercer County section of this vital future four-lane corridor.
Construction on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County has been stalled since 2008. The future interstate corridor currently comes to an abrupt end on the side of a mountain near Stoney Ridge and the Mercer Mall. At the moment, we simply have a bridge to nowhere in Mercer County. And that does no one any good. We need a useable segment of the King Coal Highway in Mercer County. And we need it soon.
In the letter to Tomblin, Rahall said members of the King Coal Highway Authority have proposed a plan that involves the construction of two-lanes as opposed to four lanes — at least temporarily — in Mercer County in hopes of getting the project back under construction. It is estimated that it will take $66 million to build a useable segment of the interstate from its existing termination point at Stoney Ridge, near the Mercer Mall, to Route 123, near the Mercer County Airport. The cost of that could be cut nearly in half by building — at least initially — two-lanes instead of four-lanes.
While we would certainly prefer all four-lanes to be constructed at once, all options must remain on the table when it comes to finding a way to get this long-delayed project back under construction — even if that means building only two lanes initially.
Tomblin has long promised to support the King Coal Highway. Now is an ideal time for him to make good on that pledge. Members of the King Coal Highway authority board also are urging Tomblin to act on Rahall's request in a timely manner. We see no reason why Tomblin shouldn't honor Rahall's request.
As we have repeatedly said it will take help on the local, state and federal level to get the King Coal Highway project moving again. And now is the time for the state to step up and assist. We expect to hear from Tomblin soon. The quicker we get the King Coal Highway included in the state's six-year plan, the better our chances of seeing some movement on the project in Mercer County.