29 February 2008

W.Va. Dems Touting New Manchin Numbers - CORRECTED

Gov. Joe Manchin scored a 71% favorability (corrected from "approval;" my bad) rating from in a recent survey of 610 likely general election voters, the West Virginia Democratic Party boasts.

As for the governor's approval rating,
"fully 55% of West Virginia voters say Joe Manchin is doing an 'excellent' or 'good' job as Governor," while "just 9% believe Manchin is doing a 'poor' job," the party said in a release.

Two-thirds would vote for Manchin if the election were held tomorrow, according to the poll conducted Feb. 22-26 by
Global Strategy Group.

Besides Democrats, the firm's clients include Chesapeake Energy, the World Trade Center and the Republic of Georgia.

The party memo did not say how fellow Democrat and gubernatorial candidate Mel Kessler, a Raleigh County delegate, fared in the polling.

It did mention that Manchin was viewed favorably by 74% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans surveyed.
The margin of error was listed as +/- 4%.

Mythbusters: Legislature 2008 Edition

The folks at the Legislature's Office of Reference and Information take a crack at some of the conventional wisdom regarding lawmakers and the legislative process, in the latest edition of their weekly Wrap-Up.

28 February 2008

Legislature 2008: And Then There Were...345

That's about how many bills survived Wednesday's Day 50 deadline for measures to pass from the chamber where they were introduced.

The survivors account for about 16 percent of the more than 2,100 introduced this session.

Nearly two thirds of the bills that made the cut were passed within the last three days.

Also, only seven bills have been sent to the governor so far.

Among the highlights:

CELL PHONES: Including plenty of exceptions, the House voted to make talking or texting on a cell phone while driving a misdmeanor. The Associated Press reports along with MetroNews, the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington and The Charleston Gazette.

CLEAN STREAMS: The Senate voted to trash the state's "Tier 2.5" category for stream protections, AP's Tom Breen reports, leaving the waterways proposed for that list to join tiers that offer greater or lesser quality standards. Others with coverage include The Register-Herald of Beckley.

DRUGS: "Drug dealers would face stiffer penalties if one of their customers dies of an overdose," a Senate-passed bill covered by the Herald-Dispatch proposes.

LANDFILLS: The Senate has passed a tipping fee measure meant to allow more tonnage at a new McDowell County landfill. Those with details include AP, MetroNews, The Register-Herald and The Gazette.

PARKS: The Herald-Dispatch reports on a Senate-passed bill "that protects park districts from lawsuits filed by people who are injured by acting carelessly on park property."

REAL ID: West Virginia would join at least 17 other states in objecting to a federal driver's license law, under a Senate measure detailed by AP, The Register-Herald,

ROAD PROJECTS: The House passed the oft-discussed method of public-private partnerships to bolster West Virginia's anemic State Road Fund. As AP explains, the bill "allow public-private deals for future construction projects," and "as compensation, the private partners could erect tolls, collect user fees or mine coal at the project site." The Charleston Gazette also has a report.

TAXES: Lawmakers exchanged proposed cuts to the corporate net income tax (AP, The Register-Herald) and the severance tax on timber (AP) and a break on property taxes for seniors (AP).

TEACHER PENSIONS: A Senate committee has amended the House-passed measure that aims to allow teachers to merge ailing 410(k)-style retirement accounts into the state's other pension fund. Teacher groups are not happy with the result, AP reports.

27 February 2008

Hillary Clinton Coming to W.Va.?

So reports The Parkersburg News, quoting Wood County's Democratic Party chairman.

Manchin Making a Splash

First, he got some TV face time during last week's Winter Meeting of the National Governor's Association. Then came the veep speculation.

This week, Gov. Joe Manchin appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal. Then, his complaints about an upcoming film, seeking extras that look like they hail from a "West Virginia holler," helped prompt the casting director's firing, The Associated Press reports.

Session's Day 50 Marks Crossover Deadline

The House and Senate have exchanged more than 270 bills in advance of Wednesday's deadline for bills to emerge from their house of origin. Lawmakers still have a slew of measures to consider, with votes likely to suspend rules to bring some of them into a posture for passage.

Last year, more than 370 bills survived Day 50.

For a sampling of what's made it so far this session:

ATVs: The Senate-passed measures include "an all-terrain vehicle ban on every mile of paved road in West Virginia," The Register-Herald of Beckley reports. The Associated Press and The Charleston Gazette also have details, while MetroNews has a report with audio.

BUCKS FOR BRAINS: Most of Gov. Joe Manchin's bills have made the cut, including a Senate measure "designed to create a $100 million research fund for the state's two largest universities," AP and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington report.

FREE CLINICS: The Senate voted to give the state Board of Pharmacy oversight of free and reduced-cost health clinics. But as AP health writer Tom Breen reports, some clinic operators fear harm from the will, "which would require those clinics to have a 'pharmacist in charge' to supervise the dispensing of prescription drugs."

MUNICIPAL PENSIONS: A proposed "bailout" to beleaguered police and firefighter pension funds made it to the House, but not without an outcry, as AP reports. Others with coverage include The Gazette, Herald-Dispatch and MetroNews.

PAYBACK'S A BITCH: Another of Manchin's bills would require state employees to pay for the costs of advanced training if they leave state employee soon after receiving it. As AP reports, "the House of Delegates passed the measure Tuesday after exempting an array of state offices from its provisions, including the Legislature and the Supreme Court."

PROPERTY TAXES: The Senate advanced a pair of measures that would exempt or greatly reduce a manufacturer's inventory from property taxes. But county officials and teacher groups tell AP they remain concerned over the resulting loss of revenue.

SCHOOL AID FORMULA: Tweaking a proposal that emerged from monthly interim meetings, the House has sent the Senate proposed changes to the method for funding schools that accounts for student population density and "could increase education spending by $37 million over the next three years," AP reports. The Gazette also has a story.

SCHOOL BUS RIDES: Reviving a perennial debate, the House passed mandatory bus ride time limits for younger public school students. AP has details.

STONEWALL RESORT: The House has passed the bill "allowing private investors to build condos, townhouses and other lodgings at the state's Stonewall Resort," AP reports.

ZONING: With some counties weighing zoning rules, the House-passed bills include one "
that aims to reduce the petition requirements for bringing such an ordinance before voters," The Journal of Martinsburg reports. "The measure also sets forth new procedures for amending existing ordinances."

Legislature 2008: Legislator Pay

Some West Virginians remain sore over the last time the Legislature voted itself a pay raise, in 1994. Howls are likely after the House passed such a measure to the Senate late Tuesday.

For critics, the debate ends with the fact that delegates and senators are part-time: their basic duties are the annual, 60-day session, plus monthly interim meetings the rest of the year that each last three days.

Supporters note that a citizen commission recommended the bill's provisions last year. Lawmakers from both parties also argue that the job has evolved to one made virtually full-time. Besides addressing constituent requests, they say, there's the travel, particularly for those representing the Eastern Panhandle.

Those legislators include Delegate Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson. He sought to explain his support for Tuesday's bill, and his successful amendment that included a $5,000 salary raise for all lawmakers.

"We have gotten to a point where you have to be retired, independently wealthy or live as a pauper to serve the people of the state of West Virginia in the Legislature," Wysong told fellow House members, as The Associated Press reports.

The subsequent applause suggests a number of his colleagues agree. hjWysong said he proposed the amendment because he would not be around to benefit from it, as it would take effect in 2009: he "counted himself among lawmakers not seeking re-election this year because they can no longer afford it," AP reports.

The 1994 raise increased salaries from $6,500 to $15,000. The pending bill would hike them to $20,000. It also increases several daily payments received by non-commuting legislators (who live too far from Charleston to go home every day during session), party leaders in each chamber and the House speaker and Senate president.

Those latter leaders would see the biggest bump from these per diem increases, $6,000 more for a regular session alone. The bill would also remove language requiring them to work from the Capitol to receive such pay, and lift a cap on the number of days eligible for payment.

The Senate passed a pay raise bill last year, only to see the House ignore it. The session ends March 8. Besides AP, those reporting on the pay raise proposal include The Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews (with audio from the floor debate) and The Charleston Gazette.

26 February 2008

Legislature 2008: The Also-Rans

As bills have until Wednesday to cross over from the chamber where they started, several appear likely to miss that crucial deadline:

GAMBLING: Lawmakers did little with legislation this session that would have allowed for a fifth racetrack in the state. "Unwillingness by Gov. Joe Manchin and legislative leaders to allow another casino in West Virginia has a businessman who proposed building (the) huge horse theme park and racetrack now threatening to build it in Kentucky," The Charleston Daily Mail reports.

GAS DRILLING: Advocates of a "Surface Owners Bill of Rights" appear pessimistic about its chances, The Register-Herald of Beckley reports.

MINE WHISTLEBLOWERS: The Senate Judiciary Committee scuttled proposed protections for miners who speak out about unsafe conditions -- while also trying to prevent their vote from being recorded. The Associated Press was there, as was Public Broadcasting (with audio).

Session Shorts, Day 49

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE (Update): The House voted 64-33 Monday to send the Senate a bill that "would bar employers from forcing employees to attend meetings meant to sway them on political matters," The Associated Press reports. The hotly debated measure drew coverage as well from The Charleston Gazette, The Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews (with audio) and Public Broadcasting (updated, with audio).

With lawmakers advancing a bill that would keep the state from joining the federal "REAL ID" program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is warning of consequences. "The most significant would be that driver’s licenses from non-complying states would not be valid identification for boarding an airplane anywhere in the U.S.," AP's Tom Breen reports.

DRIVER'S LICENSES II: The House has passed Gov. Joe Manchin's good-grades-to-drive bill that was amended to focus instead on attendance and behavior in schools. AP and The Gazette report.

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue continues to urge his colleagues to devote more state resources to drug abuse prevent, treatment and rehabilitation. As the Charleston Daily Mail reports, the Wayne County Democrat took to the House floor to cite the role drugs played in the recent double murder-suicide that rocked Kanawha County. MetroNews also has a story.

JUDGES (update): The House now has a Senate-passed measure that would add three judges to the state's circuit court system, including one for Mercer County, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph reports.

LEGISLATIVE PAY: The House is poised to consider non-salary pay hikes for themselves and senators, while the Senate has amended a pending bill to slash lawmakers' health care premiums. AP has details. The Charleston Gazette focuses on the pay bill.

LOCAL PENSIONS: Both AP and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington report on a pending bill that would offer revenue sources and other aid to woefully underfunded municipal police and fire pension plans. The Gazette gauges local reaction, while MetroNews has a story and talks to Marshall University economist/Huntington Councilman Cal Kent.

PROMISE: "Internships could soon be a requirement for all students who receive West Virginia’s PROMISE Scholarship," under a bill passed by the Senate, The Journal of Martinsburg reports.

SCHOOL UNIFORMS (Update): "At least 10 schools in West Virginia could be forcing students to dress in look-alike uniforms as a means of getting $10,000 to purchase playground and other equipment,"The Register-Herald reports, as "Before the Senate is a revived bill that would start the process to getting students across the state into uniforms."

TAXES: The Senate passed a phase-out of the business franchise tax, with coverage by AP, The Gazette and MetroNews (with audio).

25 February 2008

Legislature 2008: Taxes

The business franchise tax has been roundly denounced as a jobs killer, a costly hurdle to improving West Virginia's business climate. The tax represents a fraction of net equity, which includes stock value and retained earnings.

Lawmakers are moving to eliminate the tax, though they differ on the pacing as The Register-Herald of Beckley reports. But some experts are questioning the degree to which either approach would boost the state's economy.

"There's scant evidence that eliminating the tax on capital formation would have much impact at all," reports Tim Huber, business writer for The Associated Press. "Economists and even the state Chamber of Commerce say businesses give more weight to other factors when they're considering expansion."

Huber also includes last week's Senate debate on a failed bid to trigger an immediate repeal with the pending bill.

"Until we get down to zero, it's not going to make us competitive with neighboring states,'' Sen. John Yoder, R-Jefferson, was quoted as saying. "If we do it immediately, the economy will then start to grow. ... If we just do it gradually, it's never going to make any difference until the very end.''

Legislature 2008: 2 Weeks & Counting

Wednesday marks the deadline for most bills to pass from their house of origin, and The Associated Press reviews Gov. Joe Manchin's legislative agenda in advance of that looming hurdle.

Most are moving. "Nine of the governor's bills have already beaten that deadline," AP reports. "Another 14 are slated for votes before Wednesday, including at least five on Monday."

But lawmakers have also expanded the scope or generosity of several proposals, increasing their cost:

  • "Committees in both chambers have also tinkered with Manchin's bill to phase out a coalbed methane severance tax credit, reducing the resulting revenues in either case," the article said.
  • Manchin officials are sill assessing the changes to other bills, include its update to the new combined reporting system. Meant to increase income tax collections from multi-state corporations, the measure has been amended by Senate Finance.
  • Senate Finance "has also expanded the scope of a Manchin measure that would ask voters to amend the constitution for the lowering of certain property taxes," AP found
Though this may change Thursday, "only one (agenda bill) has been declared dead: Manchin's bid to keep PROMISE scholars in West Virginia once they graduate," AP notes. "Officials will instead study such topics as converting the merit-based scholarships into loans in certain cases, with a report due before 2009."

24 February 2008

Manchin Veep Talk Persists

Gov. Joe Manchin rounds out a roster of possible Democratic running mates compiled by The Associated Press.

With both parties' nominees "certain to come from the Senate," the article operates under the premise that "the nation's governors seem a ready pool of would-be vice presidential candidates who could provide management experience lacking at the top of each ticket."

The article also includes GOP options. As for Manchin, the article said:

This first term governor, 60, is popular in the state, and could help put a state that Bush won twice into the Democratic column. He is known nationally for his legislative efforts following several deadly mine accidents.