Talk Set On Looming Deficit

Published Dec 9, 2010. By John McVey. In The Journal News .

MARTINSBURG - There's an elephant in the room and everyone's ignoring it - except Bill Lucht.

He is the economic work force development business liaison for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.

"Last April I heard (state) Sen. Dan Foster, who's chairman of the (Senate) Pension Committee, say that West Virginia has about a $15 billion long-term deficit and that it would bankrupt the state in four years if nothing is done," Lucht explained in a telephone interview Wednesday.

He went on to say that he asked state Sen. Walt Helmick, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, if Foster's statements were true, and Helmick answered, "Yes."

"There's an elephant in the room and no one wants talk about it," Lucht said Helmick told him. "Well, I want to talk about it."

To that end, Lucht has organized a town hall-style public forum for 7 to 8:30 p.m. today at Blue Ridge CTC, featuring Foster, Helmick and other officials to discuss West Virginia's looming budget deficits as well as the United States' deficit.

Harry Zeeve, national field director for The Concord Coalition, is one of the guest speakers. Lucht expects him to say that West Virginia is in better shape than most other states, but it has to do something about its unfunded mandates, like pensions, or it could go into default.

The Concord Coalition is a nationwide, nonpartisan organization dedicated to educating the public about the federal budget and its consequences for the future, according to its website.

Also scheduled to join the panel is state Budget Director Mike McKown.

A question-and-answer session will follow the speakers' presentations.

Radio station WEPM News Director Hans Fogle will moderate the forum, which is co-sponsored by Blue Ridge CTC, Martinsburg-Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce and Prettyman Broadcasting.

The forum will take place in the atrium of the Dunn Building on West Stephen Street.