In deciding not to follow recommendations he raise taxes or dip into West Virginia’s “rainy day” fund to fight drug abuse, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin may well have had his eye on other promising opportunities to battle the problem.
Earlier this year, Tomblin’s Advisory Council on Substance Abuse recommended more state funding be devoted to meeting the challenge. A substantial tax increase and/or taking money from the state’s rainy day budget reserve were suggested.
But recently, the governor revealed he will not follow either of the funding recommendations. As his spokeswoman noted, Tomblin has adopted a policy of rejecting any tax increases.
Still, substance abuse – and that includes alcohol, illegal drugs and misuse of legal medicines – has become a crisis in West Virginia.
One concern is the number of people sent to already overcrowded jails and prisons because of substance abuse. It has been estimated about two-thirds of inmates found themselves on the wrong side of the law for crimes related to drugs and/or alcohol.
Tomblin’s panel issued a variety of recommendations that could be implemented at little or no cost to taxpayers, however.
One suggestion is for public assistance benefits to be paid through debit cards or some other electronic method, rather than by check. That would make it more difficult for recipients to get cash they could use to buy illegal drugs.
Another idea is for law enforcement agencies to have more authority to police bars. Current state law bans police from entering bars except in certain circumstances. Only Alcohol Beverage Control Administration agents are allowed to go into bars to check for compliance with laws such as those banning sale of beer, wine and liquor to minors.
A third very promising recommendation from the governor’s panel was to do a better job of evaluating whether substance abuse treatment programs really work. Doing so could save taxpayers money that could be directed instead to effective treatment.
Those three ideas make sense and should be implemented. Better methods of working with prison inmates to ensure that, once released, they do not go back to substance abuse also should be a priority.
Tomblin is right: Government can always find allegedly good ways of spending our money. Taxes should be held to a minimum.
But at the same time, some challenges must be faced – and in West Virginia, substance abuse is one of them.