Is It Time to Modernize West Virginia’s Marijuana Laws?

Decriminalizing marijuana could save West Virginia millions of dollars in its corrections budget and legalizing medical marijuana could provide an alternative to highly addictive opioid painkillers. These are among the findings of Modernizing West Virginia’s Marijuana Laws: Potential Benefits of Decriminalization, Medical Marijuana and Legalization, a report released yesterday and written by Tara Holmes, WVCBP Summer Research Associate.

As of 2016, four states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for adults, 25 states (and DC) allow for marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and 21 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

With several states considering ballot measures this November and public support for legalization rapidly growing (53% of Americans support legalization) among all age groups, the number of states taking action to undo restrictions on marijuana is likely to grow. While most states have taken at least one step toward modernizing their marijuana laws, West Virginia has not. However, bi-partisan legislation has been introduced in West Virginia over the last several years to legalize medical marijuana and tax marijuana for retail sales to adults. A 2013 poll found that a majority of West Virginians supports decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, while 46 percent supported regulating it like alcohol.

Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail and the State Journal.

 

Candidate Forum – Thursday, August 25

In anticipation of the November general election, area organizations will host a non-partisan candidate forum on Thursday, August 25 at 6:00 PM at the WV Culture Center. The event will be moderated by Ashton Marra of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and is free and open to the public.

All candidates running for House of Delegates in Districts 35 and 36 and Senate Districts 8 and 17 have been invited. Confirmed to date are:

* Chris Walters – Senate District 8
* Glenn Jeffries – Senate District 8
* Corey Palumbo – Senate District 17
* Thornton Cooper – House of Delegates District 35
* Benjamin Adams – House of Delegates District 35
* Chelsea Walker-Gaskins – House of Delegates District 35
* Nancy Guthrie – House of Delegates District 36
* Andrew Robinson – House of Delegates District 36
* Larry Rowe – House of Delegates District 36

This forum is hosted by: ACLU of West Virginia, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, WV FREE, Fairness West Virginia, WV Center for Budget and Policy, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Compassion WV, Our Children Our Future, Inspire WV, and the NAACP of Charleston.

For more information, please contact Julie Warden at 304.342.9188 or Julie@wvfree.org.

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Higher Education Cuts Jeopardize Students’ and States’ Economic Future

Public colleges and universities have experienced major cuts in state funding since the Great Recession hit – something West Virginia lawmakers should consider as they grapple with difficult budget decisions in coming months.

Funding cuts have often been accompanied by tuition hikes and cuts in campus staff and programs that may reduce the quality of education for students. Per student funding at West Virginia’s public colleges and universities is 24% below 2008 levels which has lead to an sharp increase in tuition.

For more information, read Funding Down, Tuition Up, released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities this week.


New Report Shows Racial Disparities Harming Young Children in West Virginia

This week West Virginia Kids Count released its report, Real Talk on Race, which found that in eight key measures, African-American kids fair more poorly than their white counterparts. For instance, nearly six in ten (57%) of African-American kids under five live in poverty, while about one in four (27%) white children under five is poor.

WV Kids Count’s “Race2Great” project is a five-year effort to implement four key policies that could make West Virginia a top 20 place to be a kid in the next 10 years. They include a West Virginia Earned Income Tax Credit for working families; high-quality pre-school for all three-year-olds; an additional increase in the tobacco tax to reduce pregnancy smoking and low birth-weight babies; and statewide implementation of the state’s health and sex education curriculum to reduce teen pregnancies.

How a Tax on Soda Could Help WV’s Fiscal and Physical Health

Lunch and Learn About the Benefits of a Soda Tax This Wednesday, August 17

How could a soda tax improve our physical and fiscal health in West Virginia?

Numerous studies have linked the excessive consumption of soda to the nation’s epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other diseases. A soda tax could reduce consumption and positively impact public health. It would bring new revenues to West Virginia to fund health promotion efforts, public health insurance programs or other programs. West Virginia’s existing soda tax is seen as too small to curb consumption and its revenue is not earmarked for public health insurance programs.

Join the discussion this Wednesday, August 17 from 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM at the WV Covenant House. Bring your own lunch and healthy beverage!

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Lessons from Other Public Water Fights

The movement for a public water system in the Kanawha Valley is growing due to frustration with WV American Water’s high rates, frequent main breaks and poor service. Save the date for a public forum on what it could look like to create a public water system for the Kanawha Valley.

In 2013, Florida residents took public control of a failing private water system owned by Aqua Florida. Join us to learn more about how this happened and what we can do to create a public water system that is transparent, accountable and fair.

Thursday, September 22nd, 7:00-8:30 PM
University of Charleston Appalachian Room (in the Geary Student Union)
RSVP: www.ourwaterwv.org/events 

Community Development Investments: Foundations for Growth

Please join the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh for a symposium on community development investments. This event will feature experts and practitioners who will discuss ways to build organizational capacity and expand opportunities to secure community development finance and bank financing. They will also provide examples of successful community development projects.

This program is designed for nonprofit and affordable housing providers, social service agencies, state and local municipal officials, foundations and financial institutions.

September 14, 2016, 10:15 AM – 2:45 PM, lunch provided. Registration opens at 9:45 AM.

Location: Troy Theater, Swint Hall, Wheeling Jesuit University, 316 Washington Ave, Wheeling, WV.

Register here. For questions, please contact Joseph Ott at (412) 261-7947.

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Join the West Virginians for Affordable Health Care Team

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is seeking a highly motivated and detail-oriented Health Policy Coordinator to support West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s ongoing advocacy efforts to improve West Virginia’s health, and education policies. The Health Policy Coordinator is responsible for public education, outreach and advocacy on the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and other public policies that impact access, quality and affordability of health care in West Virginia. This position will be located in Charleston, WV.

Attributes: possess a strong work ethic, pride in work, the skills and confidence to take initiative, accept direction and work cooperatively.

Be an energetic “people” person who gets along well with all kinds of people, handle and prioritize multiple responsibilities; a self-starter and finisher.

Excellent organizational, writing and social skills.

Qualifications: Law degree, PhD, or Master’s Degree in public health, social work, public administration or other relevant field desired. Bachelor’s degree required.

Computer and social media literate. Working knowledge of MS Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

Experience in writing grants.

To apply or get more information, contact Terri Giles.

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Happy Friday from the WVCBP Family!

Lucy Boettner, Liam O’Leary, Maddie O’Leary and Sid Boettner – August 9, 2016

Two Great Events This Week in Buckhannon and Martinsburg!

Join Us for the First Evening of the 2016 Summer Policy Institute

The Inaugural 2016 Summer Policy Institute (SPI) will be held July 29-31, 2016 at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

Students from across West Virginia will be a part of this first-ever event.

The first evening of 2016 Summer Policy Institute is free and open to the public! Plan to join us on July 29 at the Virginia Thomas Center for the Performing Arts!

6:30PM: Panel discussion – Moving to an Intervention and Prevention Model for Better Youth Outcomes. Panelists include Stephanie Bond with the Division of Juvenile Services; Eli Baumwell with the WV chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; Kathy Szafran, President and CEO of Crittenton Services; Cindy Largent-Hill with the WV Supreme Court; Trudi Blaylock with PSI-Med; and Jason Nicholas with the WV Public Defenders’ office (invited: WV DHHR). The panel will be moderated by Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit. The panel will discuss how West Virginia can move more toward an intervention and prevention model instead of an institutional model when dealing with adverse youth experiences.

9:00PM: Screening of the film Paper Tigers, an intimate look into the lives of selected students at Lincoln High School, an alternative school that specializes in educating traumatized youth. Set amidst the rural community of Walla Walla, WV, the film intimately examines the inspiring promise of Trauma Informed Communities, a movement that is showing great promise in healing youth struggling with the dark legacy of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

Email info@wvpolicy.org for more information!


The Racial Wealth Divide

Please join Martinsburg Renew and Friends for a friendly, peaceful and open discussion on racial inequality in West Virginia, what it is, why it matters, and what we can do about it.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Lackey Hall
July 28 2016, 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
225 S. Queen Street, Martinsburg, WV

Contact Debbie at 540-535-5145, or DeborahMM@aol.com to register.

Free and open to ALL – Let’s start the discussion. Come, Learn, Understand, Share, Unite

Legalized Marijuana and the WV Budget

At this week’s Lunch and Learn, Tara Holmes, our Summer Research Associate, presented the potential benefits to West Virginia if marijuana were to be legalized for medicinal and recreational use in the state.

Her research shows that legalizing marijuana for recreational use would bring in between $26 and $45 million a year in tax revenue from West Virginia residents alone. That number grows to $116 to $194 million when out-of-state visitors are included. Read Tara’s presentation.

Special thanks goes out to the West Virginia Covenant House for hosting the Lunch and Learn program, taking place the second Wednesday of every month.

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Report Card: How Are States Dealing with Marcellus Shale Drilling?

The Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative has released its report card that evaluates the current policies of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia in a range of policy areas. It compares policies across the three states that address the social and economic issues that unconventional drilling delivers to the communities in which it occurs. Read full report.

This scorecard informs policy-makers about the strengths and weaknesses of their respective policies. The three states can enhance their overall prosperity, and that of shale gas communities, by improving their grades – adopting policies that better mitigate the unanticipated negative impacts of unconventional gas drilling and that take better advantage of new economic activity and revenue generated by natural gas extraction.


Free Hug Friday

The weeks ending June and beginning in July have taken a toll on my heart, my spirit. From the onset of fiscal disarray in our state government to raging storms leaving my fellow West Virginians without homes, to the onslaught of violence plaguing our nation and global citizens; I felt the need to share a little love. We are facing uncertainty and with that comes fear, it was time for me to take to the streets and get out into my community to give a little love in the form of Free Hug Friday.

My friends Alexandra Gallo and Julie Warden along with Mary Mo (from Cali here to help with flood efforts) and Stacy Kay, spent an hour walking around Charleston’s Downtown giving free hugs. If you have not given a stranger a hug, try it out. The smiles, the warmth, the joy and understanding it created filled the dark spots that were looming. We can get through all of this together if we approach each task, no matter how daunting, with a full heart and understanding.

Words from your hippie wonk,
Tara Martinez

Join Us for the First Evening of the 2016 Summer Policy Institute

The Inaugural 2016 Summer Policy Institute (SPI) will be held July 29-31, 2016 at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.

Students from across West Virginia will be a part of this first-ever event.

The first evening of 2016 Summer Policy Institute is free and open to the public! Plan to join us on July 29 at the Virginia Thomas Center for the Performing Arts!

6:30PM: Panel discussion – Moving to an Intervention and Prevention Model for Better Youth Outcomes. Panelists include Stephanie Bond with the Division of Juvenile Services; Eli Baumwell with the WV chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; Kathy Szafran, President and CEO of Crittenton Services; Cindy Largent-Hill with the WV Supreme Court; Trudi Blaylock with PSI-Med; and Jason Nicholas with the WV Public Defenders’ office (invited: WV DHHR). The panel will be moderated by Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit. The panel will discuss how West Virginia can move more toward an intervention and prevention model instead of an institutional model when dealing with adverse youth experiences.

9:00PM: Screening of the film Paper Tigers, an intimate look into the lives of selected students at Lincoln High School, an alternative school that specializes in educating traumatized youth. Set amidst the rural community of Walla Walla, WV, the film intimately examines the inspiring promise of Trauma Informed Communities, a movement that is showing great promise in healing youth struggling with the dark legacy of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

Email info@wvpolicy.org for more information!


The Racial Wealth Divide

Please join Martinsburg Renew and Friends for a friendly, peaceful and open discussion on racial inequality in West Virginia, what it is, why it matters, and what we can do about it.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Lackey Hall
July 28 2016, 6:00 to 8:30 p.m.
225 S. Queen Street, Martinsburg, WV

Contact Debbie at 540-535-5145, or DeborahMM@aol.com to register.

Free and open to ALL – Let’s start the discussion. Come, Learn, Understand, Share, Unite

FY 2016 Ends with Revenue at a Six-Year Low

FY 2016 officially came to an end on June 30th, bringing to a close one of the most difficult budget years the state has faced in years. The final revenue report for the fiscal year showed revenue totaling $4.10 billion for the fiscal year, $203 million below the estimate. However, that number was inflated by actions taken during the 2016 legislative session, which included transferring funds that would have gone to pay down the workers compensation debt fund. Those transfers totaled $128 million. Without that additional revenue, general revenue would have fallen below $4.0 billion, putting revenue at its lowest point since the depths of the recession.

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 Adjusting for inflation, revenue has declined $368 million, or 8.5% in the past 10 years.

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The General Revenue Fund has not kept pace with growth in the economy, shrinking as a share of personal income. General Revenue as a share of personal income has fallen from 7.3% in FY 2006 to just 5.8% in FY 2016.

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FY 2016′s poor revenue performance was due in large part to the severance tax. Severance tax collections were harmed by a rapid decline in natural gas prices, which fell 60%, and the continued struggles of the coal industry, with revenue for FY 2016 $195 million below estimates. Also missing revenue estimates were the sales tax ($39 million below), income tax ($57 million below), and the corporate net income/business franchise tax ($30 million below).

Of the state’s major tax revenue sources, only the sales tax was above its FY 2015 collection levels for FY 2016, with an increase of $3 million. The personal income tax was down $38 million, corporate net income/business franchise tax was down $42 million, and the severance tax was down $137 million from FY 2015.

July 13 Lunch and Learn: Legalized Marijuana and the WV Budget

Lunch and Learn – This Wednesday

Several states will vote this November on whether or not to legalize marijuana. If West Virginia passed such a measure, what would it mean for the state’s budget? Find out on Wednesday at our next Lunch and Learn on July 13 from 11:30AM – 1:00PM at the West Virginia Covenant House, 600 Shrewsbury Street in Charleston.

Bring your lunch and join in on the conversation!

Keep West Virginia Payday Loan Free!

Along with 14 other states, West Virginia bans payday loans. Check out this great article from our colleagues in New York on the great benefits these states have enjoyed because high-interest loans are outlawed. New Yorkers alone save $790 million in payday loan fees each year.

Help keep these predatory lenders out of West Virginia by calling on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to close all loopholes in its proposed rule. Go here to add your voice to the thousands of others from across the country. 

Make Child Poverty an Issue in the 2016 Election

Register for one of the Our Children Our Future workshops coming to a community near you!

Happy 4th of July!

Lucy Boettner shows her patriotic spirit

Happy 4th of July from all of us at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy!

West Virginia Flood Recovery: How to Help/How to Get Help

Questions about where to get flood recovery assistance? Want to volunteer? The West Virginia Nonprofit Association has set up this page with lots of helpful information and county-by-county resources.

Lunch and Learn – July 13

Several states will vote this November on whether or not to legalize marijuana. If West Virginia passed such a measure, what would it mean for the state’s budget? Find out at our next Lunch and Learn on July 13 from 11:30AM – 1:00PM at the West Virginia Covenant House. Bring your lunch and join in on the conversation! 

It’s Shark Week: Please Take This Quick Action Against Predatory Lending!

It’s Shark Week! The real dangerous sharks are not in the sea, but in our neighboring states, stripping billions of dollars from families and their communities.

This year, while we celebrate the fact that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has proposed a new rule to keep loan sharks at bay, we have work to do. The rule as proposed contains loopholes that will still let loan sharks take a bite out of consumers.

Add your voice now to stop the debt trap!

Payday loans notoriously carry 300+% APR (annual percentage rate). Strategically located in low-income neighborhoods, payday lenders intentionally trap borrowers in debt that they cannot escape. The average payday borrower is trapped by ten transactions in a year.

Though West Virginia does not legalize these predatory loans, we still need a strong rule. Payday lenders will use a weak rule to seek a green light to come into West Virginia.

Support a strong rule to stop these predatory practices.

Great Communities Start With Good Conversation

So, We Have a Budget – What’s In It, What’s Not?

Didn’t have time to follow the twists and turns of the Special Session? Confused as to what’s in (and out of) the final West Virginia budget? Here’s Sean’s breakdown including what was in the governor’s original budget and what the final numbers look like.

Lunch and Learn – July 13

Mark your calendars for the next Lunch and Learn, July 13 from 11:30AM – 1:00PM at the West Virginia Covenant House. July’s topic: How Legalizing Marijuana Would Impact West Virginia’s Economy.

Plan to join us the second Wednesday of each month! 

Speak Out Against Predatory Lending!

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released proposed rules that, if strengthened, could rein in the worst abuses of payday and car-title lending. Thankfully West Virginia protects against abusive payday loans, but the CFPB still needs to hear from you.

Add your voice now to stop the debt trap!

Payday loans notoriously carry 300+% APR (annual percentage rate). Strategically located in low-income neighborhoods, payday lenders intentionally trap borrowers in debt that they cannot escape. The average payday borrower is trapped by ten transactions in a year.

Though West Virginia does not legalize these predatory loans, we still need a strong rule. Payday lenders will use a weak rule to seek a green light to come into West Virginia.

Support a strong rule to stop these predatory practices. 

Our Children Our Future Workshops – Register Today!

Registration is open for the 2016 Civic Engagement Workshops, where you can will learn what your organization can and can’t do during the election, attend a workshop to learn more about the 18 key issues on the Our Children Our Future platfrom, and get trained on how to do voter registration, voter turnout or candidate forums in your area.

Register now for: Martinsburg on July 21st OR Morgantown on July 28th OR Oak Hill on August 5th.

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Great Communities Start With Good Conversation

 

What the Final 2017 Budget Looks Like and Where the Money Comes From

After their first attempt did not survive the governor’s veto, the legislature finally passed a budget for FY 2017 last week, bringing an end to the budget standoff and an extended special legislative session. While the legislature’s previous attempt relied almost entirely on the Rainy Day Fund and one-time transfers, the final version uses a mix of new revenue, directed transfers, and a smaller amount from the Rainy Day fund to close the $270 million gap. Here’s a brief overview of how the final budget differs from the governor’s original proposal.

On the revenue side, Governor Tomblin proposed several revenue options for the legislature to consider, including a $0.45/pack increase in the tobacco tax and a 1% increase in the sales tax. After initially failing to pass any revenue enhancements, the legislature passed a $0.65/pack increase in the tobacco tax, as well as tax increases on other tobacco products. The changes are expected to produce about $100 million in new revenue.

On the General Revenue side of the budget, the major difference from the governor’s proposal is in Medicaid, with less General Revenue funding for the health insurance program in the final budget than in the governor’s proposal. Instead, that funding will be made up with transfer from the Rainy Day Find and special revenue accounts.

The legislature also included a number of cuts throughout the budget, above the $160 million in cuts and adjustments in the governor’s proposal. These include cuts of $427,000 to the Department of Agriculture, $5 million from the Division of General Services, $2.5 million from the Development Office, $2.8 million from the Department of Education, $1.6 million from the Department of Education and the Arts, $786,000 from the Division of Juvenile Services, and $390,000 from the Department of Transportation, which includes the elimination of funding for the Public Port Authority.

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In the Lottery Funds, there were a few changes from the governor’s proposal. Cuts were made to the Division of Tourism for advertising, as a well as to the Division of Culture and History, including a $185,000 cut to fairs and festivals. Major changes to the Lottery Funds include reducing the transfer to the Infrastructure Council by $10 million and reducing the greyhound racing subsidies by $4.1 million, instead using the combined $14.1 million for Medicaid.

Other major changes from the governor’s proposal came from other and special revenue accounts. The final FY 2017 budget uses $70 million from the Rainy Day Fund and about $19 million in directed transfers from various special revenue accounts. These funds, too, are used for Medicaid, reducing the General Revenue appropriation, and for the newly created PEIA stability fund, to help offset PEIA premium increases. $15 million was appropriated for the PEIA stability fund.

A line-by-line comparison of the final FY 2017 budget with the governor’s proposal can be downloaded here: fy17 final

Governor Signs Budget Bill

Your #dontshutdownmystate texts and posts worked!

As we mentioned in last week’s Budget Beat, the Senate and House agreed to raise the tobacco tax by 65-cents/pack, forging a compromise to raise much-needed revenue and balance the budget with less reliance on the Rainy Day Fund.

Today, Governor Tomblin signed the resulting budget bill (SB 1013) passed earlier this week. To fill the $270 million budget shortfall, this new version takes $70 million from the Rainy Day Fund, and includes $98 million in tobacco taxes along with additional budget cuts. Read more here from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy on how other states are dealing with their own budget issues.

While it is great news that a government shut down has been avoided, there were still substantial budget cuts made by the legislature and the governor to fill the huge budget gap. This week the Division of Forestry announced, then cancelled, plans to lay off 37 workers. Affected employees protested, causing officials to delay their decision which comes as a reaction to $1.7 million in budget cuts to their department. Here’s more in this week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Speak Out Against Predatory Lending!

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently released proposed rules that, if strengthened, could rein in the worst abuses of payday and car-title lending. Thankfully West Virginia protects against abusive payday loans, but the CFPB still needs to hear from you.

Add your voice now to stop the debt trap!

Payday loans notoriously carry 300+% APR (annual percentage rate). Strategically located in low-income neighborhoods, payday lenders intentionally trap borrowers in debt that they cannot escape. The average payday borrower is trapped by ten transactions in a year.

Though West Virginia does not legalize these predatory loans, we still need a strong rule. Payday lenders will use a weak rule to seek a green light to come into West Virginia.

Support a strong rule to stop these predatory practices.

 

Last Chance For Free Summer Policy Institute T-Shirt!

The first-ever Summer Policy Institute (SPI) is right around the corner, taking place at WV Wesleyan College from July 29-31.

We need your help! To ensure that all students can attend, we need sponsorships from organizations and individuals.

For a limited time, if you sponsor at a level of $100 or more you will receive our inaugural t-shirt.

Please go here to donate or email Linda for more information.

Thank you for your support!