The effects of the chemical spill are still being felt. The smell continues to be present in some places nearly ten days after the disaster. It is extremely difficult to judge whether the water is even safe to use to bathe or wash dishes with. I know of no one who is drinking it. The confidence in the water system has been destroyed.
As all public policy-makers begin the process of developing legislative changes to prevent the spill from happening, the House of Delegates moved quickly to create a way to help small businesses who were impacted by the spill. I was one of the sponsors of HB 4175 the WV Small Business Emergency Act. The Act, which originated in the new Small Business Committee, grants the Governor power to set up and administer emergency funds in the forms of grants and loans. One of the important aspects of the bill is that the state will have the right to recover any money given out from the wrongdoers or through subrogation of insurance. The intent is to have a speedy process for dealing with emergencies. The program will be limited only to times when a state of emergency has been declared.
The business impact will take some time to understand. Of huge concern to the Eastern Panhandle should be the impact on brand "West Virginia." The bad press from this is sure to be in the mind of some of our tourists in Jefferson County. Let's face it, most folks outside of the state don't know the difference between Charles Town and Charleston.
In very unfortunate news, I have just heard that there is an administration proposal to cut lottery fund distributions to counties and municipalities by 15% in order dedicate that revenue to bonds, including the bonds for Chesapeake Bay funding. I am adamantly opposed to this. Our funding levels from gaming revenue have already been dropping. To cut the share to Jefferson County, and municipalities makes no sense. We bear the burden of supporting the infrastructure for gaming and racing with these funds and are already feeling the heat of competition in Maryland. Our share of the tax revenue from lottery is already budgeted at the local level. While I cannot tell whether the 15% figure is merely an opening to negotiate, I oppose any cut in these funds.
I have communicated my displeasure to the new Deputy Secretary of Revenue, our own former Delegate John Doyle. I am proud to see that John has been hired into this position. John knows the state budget inside and out and will do a fantastic job. Importantly, he understands higher education financing. Although his role now is much different, I know his heart is in Shepherdstown.