Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
News and Sentinel, Parkersburg, W. Va., on park entrance fees:
West Virginia's state parks-the natural gems that attract thousands of visitors to the state every year-are in need of a facelift. Many of the parks' buildings are at least 75 years old — some older. They are showing that wear. In addition, the storms of 2012 — the June derecho and October's Superstorm — caused widespread damage that in many cases still has not been repaired.
However, funding during the past 15-20 years has not been able to keep pace with the decline in the parks' infrastructure. A recent legislative audit recommended at least $3 million in additional funding for the major repairs needed. Recently, the legislature began exploring ways to increase funding to help meet these infrastructure needs. While nothing was decided, several options were explored-including charging an admission fee to be paid at the parks' gates.
Since most out-of-state park visitors are coming in to stay overnight, already paying to either camp or staying at lodges, an entrance fee would seem to hit hardest those people using the parks for day trips. Most of those people it seems would be state residents. And many probably would not make as many trips if a fee is charged.
The parks's annual budget is $38.7 million. They are funded through general revenue and Lottery funds, as well as other funds. The state has many pressing needs, and a shrinking budget. It won't be easy to find an additional $3 million in funding as recommended by the recent audit. Charging a fee could be the most logical method of finding the needed money. Several other states have gone to an entry fee.
However, we hope charging a fee will be a last resort. The state park system is not some drain on the budget. While maybe not paying its own way, lawmakers should remember the park system brings in nearly 7 million visits annually, and generates $127 million annually in economic activity.
Lawmakers should think carefully before enacting a policy that could possibly lower the number of visitors.
The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W. Va., on investing in the state parks system:
West Virginia's "wild and wonderful" outdoor recreation assets are the cornerstone of the state's tourism industry.
The state has a few National Park Service facilities such as the Gauley River National Recreation Area, but it is the state park system that provides most of West Virginia's outdoor recreation opportunities. The network of 35 parks, seven forests, five wildlife management areas and two rail trails had more than 6.6 million visits last year, The Associated Press reported last week.
But the parks need more funds for upkeep and upgrading old facilities. Some park buildings date back to the Depression era, and other needs include power line improvements, new roofs, heating and air conditioning repairs and pavement resurfacing. Some parks also are still recovering from damage from last year's derecho and Superstorm Sandy. A legislative audit has recommended adding at least $3 million a year to make repairs and gradually address the maintenance backlog.
Many states are in the same boat, particularly in the wake of recession cutbacks. Some have dedicated revenue streams, but many rely on general fund appropriations that have been declining in recent years.
The funding for West Virginia parks comes from general revenue and lottery funds, along with the money the parks generate themselves from lodging and other fees. Ten of the state's parks have lodges or resort facilities that generate revenue, and along with other fees, the system generates about 55 percent of its $38.7 million budget. That is down from the 60 percent rate of a few years ago, but the West Virginia system remains one of the most self-sufficient park systems in the country.
That is despite not charging general park entry fees, which many states do. Lawmakers working on the issue hope they can keep that tradition going. ...
There is competition for all those funds, but failing to keep up these facilities would be shortsighted. The park system generates millions in tourism dollars and social benefits to residents, and it makes sense to invest in one of our greatest assets.
Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette on stabbing underdogs:
Ruthlessly, leaders in more than half of U.S. states — almost all of them Republicans — seem ready to deny health insurance to 8 million "working poor" people. Here's how:
The historic 2010 U.S. Affordable Care Act was designed to extend medical coverage to 30 million lower-income Americans. Much of this improvement stems from expanding state Medicaid plans to cover families earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The expansion is to take effect Jan. 1, with the federal government paying nearly all costs.
However, when it declared the ACA constitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed state officials to decide whether to join the Medicaid expansion. .... Gov. Tomblin accepted this humane advance, which was estimated to give health care to an estimated 120,000 more West Virginians on Jan. 1 — and also bring billions of federal money to the Mountain State and create an estimated 6,200 state jobs. Reporter Lori Kersey pointed out that nearly 70,000 West Virginians may be eligible for the enlarged Medicaid through community health centers.
But elsewhere in America, many conservative governors and state legislatures — mostly in Southern, mountain, rural "red states" — coldly refuse to participate. Even though the U.S. Treasury will pay all cost through 2016 and 90 percent thereafter, those "red" leaders are ready to hurt less-privileged families in their states. ...
One bright exception is Kentucky. Although the Bluegrass State has loud far-right representatives in Congress, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear championed the ACA to help Kentucky's 640,000 uninsured people, one-sixth of the population.
In a commentary titled "My State Needs Obamacare. Now," Beshear wrote. ...
It's amazing that GOP governors around America are rejecting such humanitarian and economic benefits, just to prevent lower-income residents from obtaining health care.