07 July 2007

The So-Called Surplus

West Virginia state government has about $47.3 million to play with after the latest budget year ended with more general revenue than expected.

This is at least the third straight year when the array of taxes and fees that fund the state's main budget exceeded estimates by a sizable amount.

All told, the state ended the fiscal year June 30 with $95.6 million over projections. As I note, state law requires that half of such a surplus must be deposited in the state's "rainy day" account.

Gov. Joe Manchin's office says they have not yet decided what to do with the rest. Past surpluses have helped close the yawning funding gap in the state's main teachers fund. But lawmakers are also looking for funding for "Community Participation Projects," the successor vehicle to the fabled Budget Digest for delivering funding earmark to their home districts.

I also note that the administration's 5-year projection predicts that spending will soon eclipse revenues, thanks largely to health care costs. The fiscal year that began July 1 must also weather revenue changes caused by the modest cuts to the food, business franchise and corporate net income taxes.

I drew my story for The Associated Press from the latest collections report from the Department of Revenue. Manchin also issued a press release on the topic, which is quoted by both AP and The Charleston Gazette.

MetroNews, meanwhile, spoke to state Budget Director Mike McKown.

06 July 2007

John McClane Comes to W.Va....Sort of

West Virginia plays a bit part in the plot of Live Free or Die Hard, the latest installment of the Bruce Willis action franchise.

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that that Willis' cap-busting cop drives into the Mountain State at one point, to investigate an East Coast power outage that's traced to a fictional W.Va. town.

Though actually filmed in California, the scene shows Willis driving past a "West Virginia Open for Business" sign. No word yet on whether this revives or influences the debate over the slogan. As best I can tell, Willis does not shoot or blow up the sign, so I guess that's good for Gov. Joe Manchin.

05 July 2007

Kessler Adds Name to SupCo Maybe List

In the event of an open seat, Senate Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, tells the Wheeling News-Register that he might consider running for the Supreme Court in 2008.

The terms of Justices Elliott “Spike” Maynard and Larry Starcher are up next year, but the newspaper explains that while "Maynard has indicated he will seek re-election in 2008, Starcher has not."

Charleston lawyer Michael C. Allen and Robert Bastress Jr., a professor at West Virginia University's law school, have filed precandidacy papers for the court. Both are Democrats.

As noted here earlier, Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion and a cousin of Gov. Joe Manchin, told MetroNews' Talkline that he is in the same posture as Kessler regarding a possible run.

The Legislative Outing to Puerto Rico

Public Broadcasting spoke to those attended as well as to critics who deem the Council of State Governments conference a poor use of state tax dollars. Segment includes audio.

The Charleston Gazette reported earlier that West Virginia sent the largest delegation to the conference _ larger than even that of the host.

Table Games Update

The Charleston Gazette reports on the state's first big coup from the approval of casino table games by voters in Hancock and Ohio counties.

Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort in Chester and the Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center each paid the $1.5 million license fee required for operating such games. All fee revenue _ tracks must also pay $2.5 million annually for license renewals _ go to fund in-home care for seniors.

Both tracks sought table games to blunt competition from slot machine casinos opening in neighboring Pennsylvania. Mountaineer's owner, MTR Gaming Group Inc., also owns one of those Keystone State establishments, Presque Isle Downs near Erie.

But a budget stalemate pitting Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, against the GOP-controlled state Senate threatens to shutter it and Pennsylvania's four other slot operations, The Associated Press reports.

"The fiscal year began Sunday without a new state budget in place, meaning that the government loses its authority to spend money on services it deems to be not essential to the health, safety and welfare of the state’s residents," the AP explains. "Rendell has said casinos would be shut down Monday with the rest of the state’s nonessential services, a scenario that Republican legislators say can be avoided."

04 July 2007

Bush, W.Va. & the 4th of July - Updated

(Update: The White House supplied this photo from this morning's speech. Familiar faces include: U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and her husband Charles, far left; Adjutant General Allen E. Tacket of the W.Va. National Guard, right of the Capitos; and Delegate Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley, second row behind the podium, far right)

President Bush marked Independence Day in West Virginia for the fourth time since taking office in 2001, addressing a crowd at the National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing in Martinsburg.

The Associated Press covered the event, and also spoke to those in attendance. Several AP members are also hosting AP Video from the morning speech (sites also here, here & here).

The Journal of Martinsburg has also posted its story from the visit. MetroNews has a story as well as audio.

The AP has an article as well on a planned protest to coincide with the president's appearance. The White House, meanwhile, has a transcript of his Martinsburg speech.

The Charleston Gazette helps celebrate the 4th with a package of interviews with some of our newer citizens. "(N)ot all Americans are born American," the Gazette notes. "For some, the fireworks and festivities on the Fourth of July are the mark of a new life in a new country."

The package also includes video of the interviews.

Others with Independence Day coverage include MetroNews, the Charleston Daily Mail and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

Six Months Old, And An Award

Lincoln Walks At Midnight hits the half-year mark this month, and I could not be more pleased. I believe it has kept its intended focus, as reflected on the masthead, while adding features and adapting over time.

I am also humbly grateful for the continuing comments and feedback from my peers and mentors in the blogosphere. I still have much to learn, but folks out there have been very kind.

And this milestone is marked by a pleasant surprise: an award.

The generous gang at Hillbilly Savants recommended Lincoln Walks At Midnight for a"Thinking Blogger Award," which "works on the principle that good bloggers know other good bloggers when they see'm."

Having been tapped for the award itself, Hillbilly Savants was asked to pick five other blogs for the honor and included Lincoln Walks At Midnight in its list.

The award originated here, and the rules are simple:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

And in keeping with the rules, I nominate the following:

1. Hillbilly Savants. A well-rounded blog devoted to all things Appalachia, with a deep bench to boot. I gladly return the favor (and not surprisingly, am not the only one);

2. The Goat Rope. Perhaps the best-written, best-footnoted site on my blogroll. A whimsical dash of Aesop sets the tone;

3. The Republican Gazette. Faithfully updated, rich in nuggets of political dish and inside skinny. Often laugh-out-loud funny as well;

4.Mighty Max Update. As heart-wrenching as it is life-affirming, the online diary of a brave little boy with CHARGE syndrome;

5. On Location With Rick Lee. A blog devoted to photography, one of the most visually pleasant corners of cyberspace.

Note: As always, I express no opinions as to the points of view or political bents of any of these blogs. Rather, as the creator of the award put it, I chose blogs "with real merits, i.e. relative content, and above all - blogs that really get you thinking!"

03 July 2007

Quote of the Day

"We believe we can win a more appropriate and favorable decision on appeal."

-- Don Blankenship, president, CEO and chairman of Massey Energy Co., responding to The Associated Press about the nearly $220 million verdict reached against the company Monday in a contract dispute with Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

Hillary To Hit Up W.Va.?

Citing unnamed sources, MetroNews reports today that Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will visit West Virginia on July 27 to raise money for her presidential campaign at a Charleston luncheon.

Manchin Family Eyes W.Va.'s Remaining Branch

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Fairmont and a cousin to Gov. Joe Manchin, is considering a 2008 bid for the state Supreme Court, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

Manchin also told host Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews Talkline today that he was "thinking pretty seriously" about running.

The President's Visit

Amid lawsuits alleging the Bush administration goes too far in trying to thwart protestors, real and potential, at public events, the president plans to spend part of his Fourth of July morning in West Virginia.

The Associated Press story looks at filings in a lawsuit arising from a previous Bush trip to the state for Independence Day: his 2004 appearance at the state Capitol, where a Texas couple was arrested and charged with trespassing (charges later dropped) after refusing to remove or conceal anti-Bush t-shirts.

The key document is a "Presidential Advance Manual." Though heavily redacted, the released excerpts detail a policy for deploying volunteers both to screen event crowds for "potential problems" and to counteract any demonstrations.

The manual also recommends recruiting "rally squads" from such groups as young Republican chapters, fraternities and sororities, and athletic teams.

While relevant to the upcoming stop in Martinsburg, the manual is also news because it has fueled a new lawsuit alleging First Amendment violations. The Texas couple, Nicole and Jeffrey Rank, have joined with a Denver couple who allege similar mistreatment at a 2005 event there to file suit in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The American Civil Liberties Union represents the couples in this latest lawsuit, filed last week, and has posted information about it on its web site.

Bush returns to West Virginia at a time of dismal approval ratings. As pollster.com recently observed:

"The question remains one of how long the current slide can continue. Historically, presidential approval has rarely fallen into the 20s. While some polls are still giving readings in the 30s, the trend remains sharply downward. However, we are now approaching historic lows. "

(This, of course, was before the president commuted the prison term of Scooter Libby.)

But Bush ran strong in Berkeley County in both 2000 (59% of the vote) and 2004 (63%). In fact, he nearly doubled his margin of victory over his Democratic opponent between the two elections (4,822 votes vs. 8,836 votes).

Organizers of tomorrow's visit expect a crowd of about 1,500 from the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia National Guard, their families and some VIPs.

02 July 2007

Quote of the Day

"I am an academic, and I feel like you're accusing me of a political bias, and I am getting upset."

-- West Virginia University economics professor Russell Sobel, during a Public Broadcasting interview about his new book, Unleashing Capitalism.

Getting Beyond The Buzz

Public Broadcasting looks into the hub-bub surrounding Unleashing Capitalism, a new book edited by West Virginia University economics professor Russell Sobel.

Many West Virginia business leaders, policymakers and media reports are gushing over" the book, Public Radio's Scott Finn reports. "But there are critics who say the book’s findings are fueled by a conservative agenda."

Besides the audio segment, Public Radio offers the entire interview with Sobel.

Other perspectives on Sobel and his work have come from The Charleston Gazette and West Virginia Media News.

West Virginia's Mr. Casino

The Associated Press profiles Ted Arneault, the CEO of MTR gaming group and most visible proponent of allowing casino table games at West Virginia's racetracks.

"The diminutive, dapper man with the expensive suits and shiny shoes has become the bane of those in West Virginia who fear and fight the expansion of gambling," the AP's Vicki Smith reports. "But the president of Mountaineer Racetrack and Gaming Resort says his work to expand gambling the past 15 years has been about much more."

Arneault cheered on voters in Mountaineer's home county of Hancock when they OK'd table games Saturday, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Pre-Candidates A-Go-Go

With a little more than 10 months before the May primary, The Associated Press looks at the sprawling field of pre-candidates for the 2008 ballot.

The situation somewhat mirrors the national political scene, where 19 declared presidential candidates are already off and running. But this is not necessarily a good thing, says political science professor Robert Rupp of West Virginia Wesleyan College.

"The candidates are running and the media is covering but the public isn't paying attention," Rupp tells AP. "I am not at all happy. It tires out the candidates, and the public is not engaged."

Rupp also advises "let's give the voters a rest. These people have day jobs."

W.Va. Makes Most of Learning Opportunity

I guess that's the best spin the Legislature can put on the recent Council of State Governments meeting in Puerto Rico: Phil Kabler of The Charleston Gazette reports that the Mountain State fielded the largest delegation at the El Conquistador resort, with 29 attendees.

"The host, Puerto Rico, was second, with 23 representatives," Kabler reports. "At the other extreme, nine states had no representatives, and nine states...each sent only one delegate."