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This week from Charleston

December 5, 2014
Del. Stephen Skinner , Shepherdstown Chronicle

This week I participated in a pre-legislative session forum sponsored by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce right after a forum with the Jefferson County Commission. In both forums, I emphasized that horse racing is currently at risk in West Virginia when the new legislative leadership takes over in January. One of the most pernicious plans being floated is to de-couple racing from casino gambling. Right now, there is active discussion about de-coupling the tracks that have greyhound racing. This bill is a possible vehicle to insert thoroughbred racing in at the last minute. I have written about this before and will continue to write about it as it is, in my opinion, the most important legislative issue for Jefferson County's economy. I am deeply concerned that the new leadership will fill in budget holes by dissecting the thoroughbred racing industry while picking apart casino gaming. While I hope that this is not true, none of my colleagues have tried to persuade me otherwise.

One of the reasons that that racing continues to be at risk is that there is little doubt that this will be a difficult budget year. My prediction is that there will be no new revenue streams to tap to plug the enormous holes in the budget. Gambling generates a lot of revenue that is dedicated to particular operations of gaming and racing, including sustainability. Besides the possibility of de-coupling, the gambling revenue currently dedicated to supporting the track and the casino could be diverted. This would have a direct fiscal impact on Jefferson County. Regardless of what happens, I predict that the 2016 budget will contain huge cuts to services. This is fair warning to all organizations who receive State funding: start preparing for the worst case scenario. I do not want to sound pessimistic, but I do want to be a realist.

On Saturday, the House Democrats will caucus to choose a leader. This leader will become the new minority leader. I anticipate we will elect Tim Miley, the current Speaker. He has done an outstanding job in cooperating with the the current minority leader Tim Armstead, who is the presumptive new Speaker, to transition the House. There remains a great deal of behind-the-scenes work to do to prepare for the session, which starts on Jan. 14. All of the incumbents will be changing offices, which is unprecedented and an enormous task for the staff. Because of the holidays and travel, this will be my last column until the new session begins. Please do not hesitate to contact me at Happy Holidays to all!



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