Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Dec. 25

The Charleston Gazette on Sen. Joe Manchin's vote on the recently passed tax bill:

Despite the GOP's stress on short-term benefits to middle-class taxpayers, the newly passed federal tax overhaul is a giant giveaway to the wealthy — a giveaway that will send the national debt soaring. Few West Virginians are in the extreme upper brackets to benefit from this bonanza. Most will suffer from the spending cuts this tax overhaul sets up.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., deserves praise for trying to halt the "reverse Robin Hood" bill (taking from the poor to give to the rich). Manchin labors for the endangered Children's Health Insurance Program and other safety net assurances that help average Mountain State families.

After the landmark vote in Congress, the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy criticized Republicans for serving the rich, saying:

"All three West Virginia House of Representative members and Sen. Capito voted in favor of the tax bill, putting the interests of major corporations and wealthy households above everyone else."

Historian Juan Cole wrote: "Yes, America, there is a class war, and you just lost it."

Manchin told Gazette-Mail political reporter Jake Zuckerman:

"This is the first time in the history of the United States that we ever started out negotiating tax reform assuming we would add another $1.5 trillion of debt to the already staggering debt we have as a nation."

Manchin added: "You can't call this tax reform."

More than most states, West Virginia needs Social Security, Medicare, federal college scholarships, CHIP and other programs that give people a chance at education, employment and health. Republicans would sabotage this safety net, just to give tax breaks to billionaires and millionaires.

On this issue, Manchin is this state's only member of Congress who truly served West Virginians.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Dec. 26

The Herald-Dispatch on why West Virginia should not backpedal on a development park:

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who often espouses the need to "think big," has some wondering whether he is actually thinking smaller in regard to one of his predecessor's initiatives — the Rock Creek Development Park in the southern part of the state.

Rock Creek was the brainchild of former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who in January 2016 announced his vision that the former Hobet surface mine site in Boone and Lincoln counties be developed into a multi-use industrial, commercial and residential site. The intent was to attract economic development to the hard-hit southern part of West Virginia that has been devastated by the loss of coal jobs. Tomblin described the project, encompassing about 12,000 acres, as vital to the Mountain State's hopes of diversifying its economy. The project made sense in that it would provide for economic development a rare commodity in West Virginia — a large parcel of mostly flat land amid all the state's mountains and hills.

Toward that end, the state planned a $93 million project to build a four-line highway connecting the Rock Creek development with U.S. 119 and W.Va. 3 and a year ago issued $58 million in bonds to help pay for it. Tomblin also announced later that the National Guard will expand training of existing units on property adjacent to the site, expand programs for vehicle and tire maintenance and use the site for a project involving apple trees and greenhouses.

When Justice, elected governor in 2016, and his administration took office in January, support for the project seemed unabated. Justice's chief of staff at the time, Nick Casey, said that his boss was committed to pursuing development of the site. "The Justice administration's perspective is: You've got to think big. This is big," Casey said, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Now, however, the Justice administration isn't thinking quite so big.

Last week, the administration confirmed that it was scaling down the road project to about $30 million for upgrading the existing mine haul road rather than a new highway. That raised concerns for some of the region's project advocates, who wondered whether an upgraded mine road would be sufficient to accommodate new uses as well as putting the infrastructure in place for potential development. Justice said it would suit the development's purposes for now and could be evaluated again later as development occurs.

Another apparent shift also was announced last week. Justice said that a plan has been outlined to start immediate economic activity at the former mine site, with the National Guard using a portion of the property for a military training facility for all branches of the service, with the work to start early in 2018. " ... we have a wonderful chance to bring in millions of dollars in investments from military contractors ..." Justice said in a news release.

That also had some advocates questioning whether the emphasis on military training and uses could limit available land or opportunities for a broader array of uses as originally outlined by Tomblin. The Justice administration says, however, it will continue to pursue development at Rock Creek as planned since its initial proposal.

Let's hope that's the case. Justice often has called for bold moves to improve West Virginia's economy and has taken some steps himself, such as the road bond proposal that voters approved in October. It would be helpful for the governor and his staff to be more forthcoming about what exactly it has planned for Rock Creek, as well as make it clear that development there will not be limited primarily to one use.

Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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Dec. 26

Bluefield Daily Telegraph on repeat offenders:

Deputies, state troopers and city police often see a sad cycle while doing their duty. They arrest the same men and women again and yet again and charge them with either drug-related charges or for burglary, theft, passing bad checks and other crimes committed while trying to find the money needed to fuel their drug habits.

The cases go to court, and soon these men and women are incarcerated yet again. They spend months or years behind bars without getting any treatment or counseling for their addictions. When they are released, they soon commit crimes and the cycle begins again.

Too often, the cycle ends with overdoses and death.

The same officers of the law arrest the same repeat offenders, but now there is a program which lets them offer these addicts some options for getting off the treadmill of addiction, arrest, incarceration and arrest yet again. Simply arresting and arresting the same people over and again really hasn't done anything to stem the ongoing opioid crisis.

There was recently a crackdown on drug dealers operating in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. Making these arrests is an important part of combating the drug epidemic, but it addresses half the problem. That half is supply.

The epidemic's other half is the demand for drugs, and that half is made up of addicts who are battling their drug habits.

If these addicts are guided toward drug treatment, their rehabilitation will reduce the demand for controlled substances. A new program, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (LEAD) is designed to help the addicts that deputies, state troopers and city police encounter and arrest repeatedly.

The Mercer County Sheriff's Department is now participating in LEAD. Chief Deputy Capt. Joe Parks said the program has seen success in other communities such as the city of Huntington, which has seen a serious drug epidemic.

Cut off from their regular source of prescription opioids, addicts will turn to more dangerous controlled substances such as heroin.

Drug dealers often add poisonous chemicals to stretch their stock of heroin and addicts desperate to escape the physical and psychological pain of withdrawal will use it even when they know the risks. The route to rehabilitation offered by LEAD can help many of these addicts avoid that option and possibly a final and fatal overdose.

Simply arresting and incarcerating drug addicts hasn't done anything to end the opioid epidemic in the two Virginias.

Programs like LEAD give the law enforcement community another way to address the drug problem and ultimately reduce the demand for controlled substances and reducing the customer base, the addicts, who create the demand.

Online: http://www.bdtonline.com/

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