12 October 2007

All Night Long

All four West Virginia racetracks -- including the three recently approved for casino table games -- will soon operate around-the-clock, The Associated Press reports.

The Lottery Commission unanimously approved 24/7 operations for the track on Thursday.

As AP has noted earlier, three of the tracks are already open 21 hours a day.

MetroNews also reports on Lottery's decision (audio here), and interviews MTR Gaming chief Ted Arneault on the edge it may give his company's Northern Panhandle track as it competes with Pennsylvania slot parlors.

Lottery Commissioner John Musgrave, meanwhile, was rebuffed Thursday in his quest for a hold on the federal ruling that frees up video lottery parlor advertising. AP reports on the judge's refuses to stay his ruling pending appeal.

And at least one parlor owner is seizing on that ruling: former delegate Chris Wakim, R-Ohio. Wakim tells The Charleston Gazette that he will restore the full name of this club from "The Trop" to "The Tropicana," now that parlors can resume employing gambling- and casino-related terms.

Wakim's gambling ties became an issue during his unsuccessful 2006 congressional bid. Wakim has not ruled out a rematch with U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st.

11 October 2007

Romney Bashes Giuliani By Comparing Him to Byrd

Mitt Romney has invoked U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., to criticize fellow GOP contender Rudy Giuliani over the line-item veto.

Romney has cited Giuliani's opposition to the line-item measure, later overturned, that was enacted during the Clinton administration.

"FACT: Mayor Giuliani Celebrated The End Of The Line-Item Veto Because It Restored Pork For New York," the former Massachusetts governor's campaign declares in a Thursday press release.

The release then parallels Giuliani with Byrd, who it says "Celebrated The End Of The Line-Item Veto, Which Threatened His Pork."

Romney cites press accounts of the 1998 line-item veto battle, and the senior senator's reputation as the "long the prince of pork on Capitol Hill."

The Associated Press details the extended tit-for-tat between the two campaigns.

French 101, With Coach Buzzcut

West Virginia's public schools face yet another hurdle, and one that's growing.

Public Broadcasting offers the overview: "
Last year about 10 percent of West Virginia’s teaching positions were filled by people who weren’t licensed in the subjects they taught." (With audio)

The classes run the gamut: math, sciences, English, foreign languages. "F
or instance, 56 percent of chemistry classes in West Virginia are not taught by certified chemistry teachers," The Charleston Gazette observed in its coverage.

Officials blame the state's chronic teacher shortage, and warn it will worsen as thousands of educators hit retirement age.

MetroNews offers a backgrounder on the topic, with comments from the state's two main teacher unions (with audio). Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval also opines on the situation in his online column today.

Supreme Court Takes Up Jail Fees Fight

West Virginia's counties should soon learn whether they must pay daily fees at the rate set by the state's regional jail authority for the inmates it houses for them.

As The Associated Press reports, the agency has appealed to the Supreme Court after it sought to compel Cabell County to pay the current rate, only to see a circuit judge rule in the county's favor.

Cabell County argues the authority relies on an unfair method for calculating fees, and that not enough of its board members were on hand when the last hike was approved.

A growing roster of counties has expressed concerns over the fees and the increasing portion of annual budgets they concern. The Parkersburg News reports on Ritchie County's handling of the issue, while The Journal of Martinsburg recently examined the impact of jail costs on Berkeley County's bottom line.

Others covering Wednesday's high court hearing include The Charleston Gazette.

Coal Makes The Latest GOP Debate...Barely

As best I can tell from the online transcript of Tuesday's Republican presidential debate in Dearborn, only one of the nine candidates mentioned coal even though several answered a question about U.S. energy policy.

"We face serious competitive challenges globally unless we become serious with our getting prices of energy down," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said.

"It's a great opportunity for America to develop technology to lead the world in energy efficiency as well as energy production," Romney continued. "And whether it's nuclear or liquefied coal, where we sequester the CO2, far more fuel-efficient automobiles -- by the way, where bureaucrats don't write the rules, but where business people come together and say, "Let's find a way to make sure that the American, the domestic industry can thrive."

10 October 2007

Massey's Big Day In Court

More than five years after a Boone County jury decided against it in a coal contract dispute, Massey Energy Co. is arguing its resulting appeal today to the state Supreme Court.

The jurors awarded $50 million in damages to Harman Mining and company president Hugh Caperton, a cousin of former Gov. Gaston Caperton.

Post-judgment interest has increased that award daily. It now approaches $76 million. Lawyers for Massey have also asked the justices to consider reducing that component of the judgment, The Associated Press reports.

As it did in a 2006 federal lawsuit, later dismissed, the leading coal producer blamed much of the delay in appealing on a court stenographer who allegedly botched the trial transcript badly after repeatedly failing to deliver it on time.

Harmon alleged that Massey ruined the company after voiding a 10-year sales contract. "Massey contends Harman filed for bankruptcy because of mounting losses at its Grundy, Va., mining operation and other problems that had nothing to do with Massey," AP reports.

The Supreme Court has posted the briefs filed by both sides in the case. The court's web site also hosts streaming video of its motions and arguments dockets.

The pending appeal may prove one of the most-watched of the term, which began Sept. 11.

Massey and its supporters have cited critical comments by Justice Larry Starcher in seeking to remove him from hearing the case.

The other side points both to Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard's longtime friendship with Massey chief Don Blankenship, and to Blankenship's bankrolling of a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that helped elect Republican Justice Brent Benjamin over then-incumbent Warren McGraw in 2004.

As AP notes, "Massey has since sued the Kentucky law firm that defended it in the Harman case for legal malpractice. The coal company blames the firm for losing a related claim pursued by Harman in Virginia, which yielded a $6 million judgment against Massey."

But Massey is also entering the Supreme Court Chamber this morning on a high note: its shares surged Tuesday after a Wall Street analyst recommended buying its stock, AP reports.

Update: AP covered the lengthy arguments hearing, as did The Charleston Gazette, Public Broadcasting, MetroNews and WOWK-TV.

Is W.Va. First In Something Good?

Opinions will vary on the question, but new Census Bureau figures show West Virginia paid the least among the states in federal taxes, at $3,015 per person, The Associated Press reports.

The national average was $7,652 per person.

The AP's analysis of the data also shows that the Mountain State received $2.94 in federal spending for every tax dollar it sent to Washington in 2005. Only two states, New Mexico and Mississippi, saw a greater return.

West Virginia also fared particularly well in this category when compared to some of its neighbors.

From the AP story:

"The Census Bureau released its annual report on 2005 spending by the federal government Tuesday. It documents the geographic distribution of $2.3 trillion in government spending, including salaries, grants, military pay, government contracts and Social Security payments. It excludes interest on the national debt, overseas spending and the classified budgets of intelligence agencies.

The AP compared the census data to previously released IRS figures for 2005 federal tax collections. The IRS data includes individual, corporate and excise taxes.

The analysis shows that wealthy states pay more than poor ones, blue states subsidize red states, and states with powerful politicians on key House and Senate committees fare well in federal spending."

Bill Clinton To Headline Manchin Fundraiser

With Bill Clinton in town Saturday for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Gov. Joe Manchin has tapped the former president to host a fundraiser beforehand for his 2008 re-election campaign, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Clinton has already proved a huge draw for the state Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner: with nearly 3,600 tickets sold, and walk-up sales expected to push attendance over 4,000, it will be a record Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner crowd," the Gazette reports.

09 October 2007

Interim Highlights & Tidbits, Day 2

* Columbus Day brought dozens of striking nurses and their supports to the Capitol for a rally amid their dispute with Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

As The Associated Press reports, ARH is one of the region's largest health care providers and owns 7 hospitals in Kentucky and two in West Virginia. "About 630 nurses in both states walked off the job last week following the expiration of their contract," AP reports. " Since the strike began on Oct. 1, ARH has brought in replacement workers."

The Charleston Gazette and WOWK-TV were among those covering the rally.

* The Public Employees Insurance Agency told lawmakers Monday that the threat of a potential $8 billion (corrected figure; my bad. -ed.) funding gap has forced it to increase deductibles and add co-payments come July, The Gazette reports.

* The Division of Foresty faces questions from lawmakers after an audit uncovers a bevvy of accounting and record-keeping problems at the agency, AP reports.

* Public Broadcasting charts the progress, or possible lack thereof, shown by West Virginia's Medicaid programs since officials redesigned it to cut costs. With audio.

* Lawmakers also got an update on Gov. Joe Manchin's plan for statewide high-speed Internet access by 2010 _ but also questioned why he vetoed a bill they say could have aided that goal. AP has the story.

Locking 'Em Up In The Mountain State

West Virginia's prisons are so overcrowded, hundreds of convicted felons must serve their sentences in county jails. The jails, meanwhile, are straining county budgets with their daily per-inmate fees.

But the state Council of Churches and a research group at Wheeling Jesuit University believe West Virginia can save the estimated $130 million to $200 million it would otherwise spend on a new prison, if officials rethink their approach to "everything from parole to drug rehabilitation."

As The Associated Press' Tom Breen reports, corrections officials are taking their report seriously.

"The report recommends changing the way the state handles people convicted of nonviolent crimes. It also praises steps West Virginia has already taken," Breen writes. "In particular, it says the state’s 17 day report centers established in the last two years have been valuable in giving parolees access to services ranging from education to help for substance abuse."

The Charleston Gazette, The Register-Herald of Beckley and MetroNews (with audio) also covered Monday's release of the report.

And citing that study, the Beckley newspaper also reports on an interim legislative committee drafted a resolution Monday "to prod the Manchin administration to provide the full $5 million funding of day-reporting centers as an alternative to keeping some convicts behind bars."

But as AP also reports, the push to provide alternatives to incarceration appears at odds with calls for stiffer DUI penalties. A study group gave lawmakers differing views for deterring DUI and punishing repeat offenders within the context of a crowded prison and jail system.

The Gazette and The Register-Herald (with a related story here) also covered that interim meeting.

Fred Thompson Lines Up Leading GOP Lawmakers

The minority leaders of the Legislature, Sen. Don Caruth of Mercer County and Delegate Tim Armstead of Kanawha County, were among several GOP lawmakers who endorsed presidential candidate Fred Thompson on Monday.

All told, 13 of the Legislature's 39 Republicans lined up to support the former Tennessee senator's 2008 bid.

MetroNews covered Monday's announcement from the state Capitol.

In other 2008 presidential campaign news, the Doddridge County Republican Executive Committee will host GOP candidates Gene Zarwell at its annual Ox Roast, Oct. 20.

08 October 2007

Interim Highlights & Other Tidbits

* Some lawmakers are eyeing ways to restore oversight for workers' compensation-related administrative rules, but others aren't sure that's a good idea. The Associated Press has the story, as does The Register-Herald of Beckley.

* The Charleston Gazette reports on updates from Gov. Joe Manchin's proposals to create a Web-based system for sharing medical records and to increase broadband access in the Mountain State.

* Lawmakers also received assurances Sunday that President Bush's recent veto of the SCHIP bill poses no immediate threat to the state's program, The Register-Herald reports.

* The Journal of Martinsburg crunches the numbers to highlight the increasing burden of daily jail costs on county budgets. "This year alone, Berkeley County expects to spend nearly $2.1 million on regional jail fees. The fees consume nearly 8.5 percent of the county’s projected $25 million budget," the newspaper reports.

* The scheduled appearance of former President Bill Clinton at Saturday's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Charleston promises to attract a larger-than-expected crowd, MetroNews reports.

* The Register-Herald also reports that Delegates Kelli Sobonya and Carol Miller, both R-Cabell, have joined State Legislators for Legal Immigration, a group that "seeks full cooperation among all levels of government to keep America’s borders free of invasion."

Fueling The Lottery Debate

Amid the tumult over West Virginia's video lottery parlors, The New York Times has examined the role lotteries play in the revenue picture for the Mountain State and 41 of its peers.

"Lotteries have raised billions of dollars, and of the 42 states that have them, 23 earmark all or some of the money for education," the paper reported Sunday. But the Times' analysis concluded that "lotteries accounted for less than 1 percent to 5 percent of the total revenue for K-12 education last year in the states that use this money for schools."

The article pegs the West Virginia lottery's contribution to education at 1.1 percent of total K-12 education funding. The accompanying graphic also notes that video lottery sales were not counted for part of the analysis. A separate chart (not with the online edition) further noted that key lottery financial data from West Virginia was not available for the Times' analysis.

Figures from the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries suggest that about 28 percent of West Virginia's lottery revenues went to education between the 1986 start of its lottery system and the end of the 2006 fiscal year.

These figures also list 26 states as earmarking lottery revenues for education: 10 states dedicate all such revenue toward this area, while only four of the state provide a lower percentage to education than West Virginia.

Video Lottery: Eyeing The Proverbial Goose

The unexpected ultimatum leveled by video lottery leasing companies against parlors that host the machines underscores the new threat to the industry posed by last month's federal court ruling.

The Associated Press explores the potential impact of this ruling, while also talking to the club owner who helped win it.

"I don't believe that most of our people are going to advertise," Jesse Bane told AP. "I think they're going to be very cautious about how they advertise."

Several others have also weighed the ruling's role in the ongoing gambling debate, including:

* Public Broadcasting (on the Outlook television program as well as in this audio segment),

* The Charleston Gazette,

* MetroNews (with a separate commentary by Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval),

* The Charleston Daily Mail offers a detailed overview of this component of the state lottery system.

The Gazette and Public Broadcasting reported earlier on the paltry results of the first public hearing convened by Kanawha County officials so residents could sound off on video lottery parlors. Only a couple dozen showed up, not all opposed the parlors and not all even wanted to talk about that issue (Public Broadcasting also has audio and transcript).