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For the governor-elect, no lack of tough issues 12/6

December 05, 2000

For the governor-elect, no lack of tough issues 12/6



West Virginia Gov.-elect Bob Wise had his first meeting with West Virginia's top legislative leaders this past Sunday, but the lawmakers said there wasn't much talk about issues. It may be the last time the Mountain State's top elected officials get to meet without facing a full agenda.

But if the governor keeps his early promise to involve lawmakers early and often in planning legislative initiatives, all involved should have a better shot at dealing with some of the more difficult issues facing the state. The hot topics for the upcoming legislative session should include the following:

- The budget. The current year's budget was balanced with millions from the federal tobacco settlement, and the state probably has no good alternative but to dip into that cash again. The other possibilities for state revenue enhancement are a tax increase (already ruled out by legislative leaders) and an expansion of legalized gambling, which carries its own social costs.

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- Higher education. The reorganization bill passed last year will begin re-shaping the system in 2001, as a new chancellor with statewide authority is hired to oversee a transformation that will make the junior colleges a key part of employment training. The job will require the skills of a master administrator and a skilled lobbyist to sell lawmakers on necessary changes and additional funding.

- The Public Employees Insurance Agency. In October, it was reported that low reimbursement rates from PEIA and Medicare were costing public hospitals millions. If that continues, public health care is at risk, but upping the reimbursements won't be done without a cost.

- The Budget Digest Process. There were charges made in the last session that the budget process was being used to enforce discipline, may face opposition again in 2001. The leadership would be wise to look at this issue now, before there's a demand for action from newly elected members.

We wish Gov. Wise and his team good luck. They will need it as they confront these important - and potentially expensive - legislative issues.

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