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Opposition continues against ‘hair cut’ bill

By Staff | Feb 21, 2014

Voices around Jefferson County continue to be raised in opposition to a proposed Bill in Charleston that would cut gaming revenues specifically designated to the county when the original gaming bills were passed by voters.

Senate Bill 385 and its corresponding bill in the House was generated at the request of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to reduce by 15 percent the amount of revenue designated to the county Board of Education, municipalities and county commission as well as to purse funds for the horse racing industry.

That 15 percent could have devastating effects on local budgets already cut short by the decrease in the gambling revenue now that neighboring Maryland has opened gaming.

The Jefferson County Commission, who has already faced a staggering $3.9 million deficit in their current budget year, looks to lose more than $660,000 of revenue should the ‘hair cut’ bill be passed. The group has taken action to submit a letter voicing their concerns and disapproval of such a bill to the Governor’s office. The group has also discussed and agreed upon the need for a lobbyist in Charleston to help fight the measure on a local front.

Municipal governments within the county also stand to lose funding that was guaranteed to them when the gaming bill was passed in 2009. The revenue is based on population which has Charles Town and Ranson losing the lion’s share, but the smaller towns would also feel the pain. All are preparing for the worst as they look at their budgets for fiscal year 2015 which have to be completed and sent to the state by the end of March.

Allocations to many nonprofit organizations made because of the extra gaming revenue are on hold or already eliminated for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

Also facing a “catastrophic” outcome would be the horse racing industry, according to Randy Funkhouser, president of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association.

Funkhouser recently appeared before the Jefferson County Commission to explain what some of the repercussions would be to, not only horse raising but the horse industry in the county as a whole.

“It could lead to no horse racing or no breeding here,” Funkhouser said. He explained that the total could reach as high as $6 million lost to the purse funds and breeder’s awards. The loss of those purse funds could cause a domino effect leading to less horses coming to Charles Town.

The cuts Tomblin has requested in the proposed bill would go into the general fund to help balance the state’s general budget. The state is faced with an estimated $146 million downfall for the upcoming year.

When the initial referendum for gaming was passed in 2009, it was done by voters here on the condition that funding come directly to the Board of Education for capital projects, as well as a portion to local governments. The passage of the proposed bills would negate what the voters were guaranteed when they passed the referendum.

“That is what worries me the most,” said Commissioner Jane Tabb. “The voters passed table games because of what Jefferson County received.”

A contingency of individuals from Jefferson traveled to Charleston earlier this month to speak against the passage of the bills. According to Commissioner Dale Manuel, not one individual spoke in favor of the bill.

Currently the bills are in committee in their respective sides of the capitol.