The Journal of Martinsburg, West Virginia, published this editorial on Jan. 7 regarding West Virginia’s general revenue budget so far this fiscal year:

Gov. Jim Justice offered a late Christmas gift to West Virginians, telling us state revenue collections were good during December. He and state legislators need to bear in mind that we are not out of the woods, yet, however.

Going into the sixth month of the fiscal year, the state’s $4.7 billion general revenue budget was out of balance by more than $40 million. That is, actual collections were that much below projections on which the budget was based.

But Justice reported a modest turnaround in December. For that month, collections exceeded what was budgeted by $6.9 million, the governor noted. That leaves total revenue for fiscal 2020’s first half $33.4 million below expectations.

For several weeks before 2019 ended, some in the Justice administration talked of a $100 million spending cut to ensure the budget remains in balance until the end of the fiscal year on June 30. But the governor held off on that and, last week, was optimistic. He called December collections “really phenomenal.”

They were not, of course. To his credit, Justice said that although the state is “in great financial health,” officials “are always looking at all of our numbers ...”

Cautious optimism seems merited. Some key budget line items performed well in December. Severance tax receipts were about $100,000 above projections.

But other critical numbers were not as good. Personal income tax receipts are $33.6 million below the budgeted figure. Consumer sales tax revenue is $2.8 million under projections. In other words, this is not an occasion for a cork-popping celebration.

Unless a sharp upturn in revenue is evident during the next couple of months, Justice should continue to consider ordering a spending cut. With half the fiscal year remaining, there is plenty of time for the budget to become a serious problem.

Ky. must strengthen animal-cruelty laws

The State Journal of Frankfort, Kentucky, published this editorial on Jan. 3 regarding animal abuse laws in Kentucky:

For the state with the worst animal protection laws in the country for 12 years running, according to annual reports published by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a particularly gruesome animal cruelty case in Floyd County stresses the need for stiffer legislation.

Jonathan D. Watkins, 38, of David, reportedly killed and skinned four of his neighbors’ dogs because he wanted a “doggy coat.” Kentucky State Police have charged him with four counts of torture of a dog with serious physical injury or death, a Class A misdemeanor, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence, a Class D felony.

In a citation issued by Kentucky State Police, a neighbor said Watkins was “covered in blood” when he came over to ask for a cigarette on Dec. 23. When questioned about his activities, Watkins admitted he had “been skinning dogs.” Later, the neighbor observed what appeared to be four animal skins on Watkins’ porch and two skinned dog carcasses hanging over the porch banister.

While this gory case may be extreme — much like the local case last year in which a Frankfort man is accused of killing 24-year-old Coty Brumback and his dog, Baloo — it spotlights the pressing need for tougher state animal cruelty laws and penalties.

Currently, Kentucky lacks numerous protections such as requiring veterinarians to report suspected abuse. Felony animal fighting and cruelty statutes only cover a limited number of species, and there are no provisions for restitution or forfeiture post-conviction except in cases involving horses.

Legislators have pre-filed 11 animal-related bills for the session, which (started) on Tuesday (Jan. 7), but none include increasing penalties for animal cruelty. Those 11 bills will also need to compete with the hundreds of other pre-filed bills on other hot button topics such as sports wagering, taxes, vaping restrictions, charter schools and medical marijuana. Additionally, lawmakers will also be wrestling with budgetary and education issues.

While their plates may be full, we believe elected leaders need to hear the words of Mahatma Ghandi who said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

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