30 December 2009

More on W.Va.'s Midyear Budget Cuts

Manchin administration officials tell The Associated Press that they expect West Virginia's share of the federal stimulus funds to offset much of the 3.4 percent cut that the governor has ordered for executive branch agencies.

"Administration officials expect to tap stimulus funds to replace $57.6 million for public schools, $12.2 million for higher education and up to $27.7 million for Medicaid," the article said. "Stimulus dollars had also helped West Virginia avoid painful cuts when lawmakers passed the current budget in May."

The midyear cuts are meant to compensate for a projected general revenue shortfall of $120 million. The May cuts had totaled $197 million. "Those two rounds of cuts puts this year's general revenue budget on par with 2007's," House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White told AP.

Manchin had already asked state agencies to cut their 2010-2011 budgets by 5 percent (except for education, where the cut is 4 percent). That whack "would total around $189 million, and would appear in the budget bill Manchin will introduce next month when the Legislature begins its 60-day regular session," the article said.

The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg checks in with area lawmakers on the governor's order, while MetroNews hears from Manchin's revenue secretary.

29 December 2009

Religiosity in West Virginia

West Virginia trails most of the rest of the Bible Belt but ranks ahead of nearly all other states in a Pew Research Center survey on religion.

The Mountain State placed 15th for the percentage of respondents who said religion is very important in their lives, at 60 percent. As for other measures:

  • 43 percent said they attend religious services at least once a week, the 17th-best showing;
  • 66 percent said they pray at least once a day, giving West Virginia its best ranking in the survey at 13th;
  • 76 percent said they believe in God with "absolute certainty," ranking it 16th.
Mississippi topped each ranking, while Alaska and the New England states tended to round out each list. Among its neighbors, West Virginia tended to rank higher above all except Kentucky.

Pew mined the results from a 2007 survey of nearly 36,000 U.S. residents, including 296 West Virginians. The state's portion has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percent.

28 December 2009

W.Va. Braces for Midyear Budget Cuts

Gov. Joe Manchin has ordered the entire executive branch, including other elected officials, to cut their general revenue spending by 3.4 percent, The Associated Press reports.

"The Legislature and Supreme Court have also agreed to as-yet-unspecified cuts," the article said. "As with other states, the recession has weakened West Virginia's general tax revenues. The Manchin administration had estimated that those revenues would total $3.7 billion by the June 30 end of the budget year. Manchin now believes revenues will fall short of that mark by $120 million."

Mental Health Care in W.Va.

The Associated Press reviews 2009's efforts to provide health care to West Virginians with mental illness, and finds a decidedly mixed bag.

The past 12 months "have either seen hopeful progress or a frustrating perpetuation of the status quo," reports AP's Tom Breen. "Advocates for people with behavioral illnesses say there’s been little to no improvement. The state’s top health officials disagree."

A Slap Heard 'Round the Coalfields

The debate over mining, particularly the mountaintop removal method, has been one of West Virginia's top stories of 2009.

The Associated Press focuses on a June confrontation between two coalfields residents at the front lines of this battle -- mining supporter Cordelia Ruth Tucker and environmental activist Judy Bonds -- to report on its heightened tensions.

"Both sides are fighting for a way of life," writes AP's Vicki Smith. "The miners see the mountains as their livelihood. The environmentalists see them as divine and irreplaceable creations."

Index Finds W.Va. Faring Well Among Recession-Battered States

West Virginia entered the final months of 2009 ranked second on the Index of State Economic Momentum, a quarterly measurement of economic vitality compiled by the nonpartisan Federal Funds Information for States.

As The Associated Press reports, the ranking is West Virginia's best ever. The latest index suggests that the natural resources sector likely helps account for the state's placement.

"The state's enviable rankings -- it was eighth in March's index -- may also underscore how badly the recession has damaged the economies of most other states," AP reports. "Before this year, it had never cracked the Top 10. During 2008, it had ranked as low as 46th, and was dead last in June 2004."

24 December 2009

They Voted for You: Health Care

U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., each voted to pass their chamber's version of federal health care legislation, The Associated Press reports.

The 60-39 roll call reflected a party-line vote and the absence of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.

The bill "could define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country's history," AP reports, adding that is also "must still be merged with legislation passed by the House before Obama could sign a final bill in the new year. There are significant differences between the two measures but Democrats say they've come too far now to fail."

AP also offers a comparison of the Senate- and House-passed versions that must be reconciled by a conference committee.

Byrd issued a statement following his vote. Rockefeller had earlier posted his floor speech (and audio as well as video) in support of the legislation.

23 December 2009

Election 2010: Congress

The National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted much of West Virginia with robo-calls this week attacking Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, in their respective districts, Politico reports.

The item considers the choice of Mollohan, Rahall and 14 other House incumbents "obvious" for a robo-call campaign because "these are the most vulnerable Democrats in 2010."

The major campaign observers have yet to reach that conclusion, at least regarding West Virginia's delegation.

Mollohan and Rahall don't appear on the latest lists of competitive races offered by The Rothenberg Political Report, Congressional Quarterly's CQ Politics or National Journal's Hotline.

The Cook Political Report, meanwhile, recently added Mollohan's seat to its chart, but as "likely Democratic."

Within West Virginia, the NRCC has been promoting a recent article in The Intelligencer of Wheeling reporting that former state GOP Chair David McKinley met with its officials about a possible challenge of Mollohan.

A Wheeling architect and former state lawmaker, McKinley told the newspaper "that an announcement regarding his plans should occur before the end of 2009."

22 December 2009

Manchin Official Resigns, Gets Sued

The man who stepped down last week as head of the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity had earlier become a defendant in a lawsuit also filed against the Huntington church he pastors, The Charleston Gazette reports.

Fifth Third Bank alleges that "Apostolic Life owes more than $702,000 on a loan taken out in 2001, plus nearly $37,000 in interest," the article said. "The bank also claims that a man who runs a technology company in Tennessee helped the church file fraudulent documents related to the loan."

That co-defendant, Mark Shannon Manuel, "called the lawsuit 'frivolous' and said the church has paid off its debt," the article also said.

The Gazette reported earlier on Harper's abrupt Friday departure from the state office.

"Harper's resignation came two days after a meeting where the heads of several community action agencies told Harper they might close their doors because federal stimulus funds that pass through the GOEO were so late," that article said.

W.Va. Storm Response Criticized

Gov. Joe Manchin expects to hold a Capitol press conference this afternoon (corrected from morning) after telling The Associated Press and others that "he wants state agencies to account for their actions during the weekend snow storm that left hundreds of motorists stranded on West Virginia’s highways."

“Mistakes were made and it has to be fixed,” Manchin told AP. “I’m upset and I want answers.”

The Manchin administration has caught flak over how state agencies responded. The West Virginia Turnpike has also come under fire for not closing until after hundreds of vehicles had become stuck, stranding travelers on the road for 16 hours and more.

"It marks the second time in as many years that the decisions of West Virginia Turnpike officials are being questioned," AP reported. "In August 2008, Manchin asked for a review of turnpike operations after an accident trapped motorists for 10 hours."

Manchin also spoke to MetroNews, which has audio, and to Public Broadcasting (ditto).

W.Va. Again to Count Stimulus Spending, Jobs

As with other recipients of federal stimulus funds, West Virginia officials are gearing up for the next round of disclosures meant to detail how the money's been spent and whether it's created or saved any jobs, The Associated Press reports.

The numbers will become public at the end of January, f0llowing reviews on both the state and federal level during much of that month.

AP had reported on the spending and jobs figures from West Virginia's first stimulus disclosure. As the latest article explains, "The initial round of reporting counted a little more than 2,400 jobs retained or created between February's passage of the massive legislation and the end of September. They were linked to around $191.8 million from West Virginia's estimated $1.8 billion share of the stimulus."

"Gov. Joe Manchin's stimulus coordinator, Danny Scalise, is standing behind the administration's portion of West Virginia's figure," the article said, but it adds that a review "suggests problems with some of the other jobs claims behind West Virginia's tally."

Praying for Byrd. Or Not.

U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., raised eyebrows at Political Wire and elsewhere after contributing this comment to the weekend debate over that chamber's health care legislation.

"What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight," Coburn was quoted as saying. "That's what they ought to pray."

Dana Milbank of The Washington Post interpreted his votive thusly: "They needed one Democratic senator to die -- or at least become incapacitated... It was difficult to escape the conclusion that Coburn was referring to the 92-year-old, wheelchair-bound Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) who has been in and out of hospitals and lay at home ailing..."

Milbank explained that "It would not be easy for Byrd to get out of bed in the wee hours with deep snow on the ground and ice on the roads -- but without his vote, Democrats wouldn't have the 60 they needed."

But, as The Associated Press and others reported, supporters "won a crucial test vote on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, putting them on track for passage before Christmas of the historic legislation to remake the United States' medical system and cover 30 million uninsured."

Milbank ended his column by describing the crucial scene that provided that outcome:

Coburn was wearing blue jeans, an argyle sweater and a tweed jacket with elbow patches when he walked back into the chamber a few minutes before 1 a.m. He watched without expression when Byrd was wheeled in, dabbing his eyes and nose with tissues, his complexion pale. When his name was called, Byrd shot his right index finger into the air as he shouted "aye," then pumped his left fist in defiance.

18 December 2009

Poore to Succeed Webster in 31st House

Gov. Joe Manchin has announced he's appointed Charleston lawyer Meshea L. Poore to the 31st House of Delegates seat vacated by now-former House Judiciary Chair Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha.

Poore had lost to Webster, picked by the governor for the Kanawha Circuit Court bench, in their party's 2008 primary.

Poore "is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Alabama State Bar Association, and serves on the board of West Virginia Legal Aid," Manchin's statement said. "Poore received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University in Washington and a law degree from Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, La."

17 December 2009

They Voted for You: Debt

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted for what The Associated Press describes as "legislation giving the federal government the ability to borrow a whopping $290 billion to finance its operations for just six additional weeks."

As with a subsequent roll call on jobs stimulus, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and the other House GOP members present opposed the measure in the 218-214 vote.

"The measure is needed as a result of the out-of-control budget deficit, which registered $1.4 trillion for the budget year that ended in September," the article said. "The current debt ceiling is $12.1 trillion and is set to be reached by Dec. 31."

AP also reported on the partisan divide reflected in the vote:

Because Democrats control both Congress and the White House, it was their job to muster the votes required to advance the bill, even though much of the increase is required due to economic conditions inherited by President Barack Obama as he took office. The down economy has cut tax revenues sharply.

Republicans - who helped supply votes to increase the debt ceiling just last year - unanimously opposed the legislation, which is required to issue new debt to pay for federal operations and deposit up to $50 billion into the Social Security trust funds that pay pensions.

Property Taxes in West Virginia

The West Virginia Constitution governs the handling of property taxes in the state. A commission studying the topic has recommended shifting some of that power to the Legislature, The Associated Press reports.

The Gov. Joe Manchin-created Tax Modernization Project Work Group recommended a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers greater flexibility over property taxes leveled at business inventory, equipment and machinery.

The panel has concluded that such taxes are "a drag on West Virginia's ailing manufacturing base," the article said. "But the recommendation also calls on lawmakers to consider the effect of any changes on counties, which rely heavily on property taxes."

They Voted for You: Jobs Stimulus

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass a bill aimed at jobs and unemployment that mixes "about $50 billion for public works projects with another almost $50 billion for cash-strapped state and local governments," The Associated Press reports.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted along with all other House GOP members present in opposing the measure, which prevailed 217-212.

"The measure blends a familiar mix of money for highway, transit and water projects and aid to help communities retain teachers and firefighters," AP reports. "There's also $41 billion for a six-month extension of more generous unemployment benefits and $12 billion to renew health insurance subsidies."

Republicans dubbed the bill "Son of Stimulus," and were not alone. "Given increasing anxiety among Democrats over massive budget deficits and the party's poor marks with voters for its free-spending ways, the measure could face a tough road. Some 38 Democrats voted against the plan, mostly moderates and junior members elected from swing districts," the article said.

15 December 2009

W.Va. Lawmaker Runs Afoul of First Amendment

Morgan County's school board has come down on the side of Berkeley Springs High students who had been targeted by Delegate Daryl Cowles over their apparent show of political activism, The Associated Press reports.

The students had been "wearing T-shirts in favor of national health care coverage," the article said. Cowles, R-Morgan, "said he was worried they were being manipulated by the group Single Payer Action, which produced the shirts."

A statement from county Superintendent David Bank said that "students wearing shirts or buttons to support a cause is nothing new at county schools," AP reported. "As long as students aren't disruptive, Banks says, there's nothing wrong with such actions."

The Journal of Martinsburg has coverage here and here.

W.Va. Workers Brace for 2010

The Charleston Daily Mail reports that "between Jan. 11 and Feb. 19, about 20,000 state employees will be required to fill out a job content questionnaire with comprehensive and updated information about the responsibilities of their positions."

Announced in e-mails to workers last week, the surveys are part of a project to modernize the state's " severely outdated" jobs classification and compensation system, the Department of Administration told the newspaper.

"Members of the West Virginia Public Workers Union UE Local 170 are skeptical about the motives behind the initiative," the article said. "State officials expect it will take several months to analyze data collected from the surveys. Any recommendations or proposed changes won't be finalized until late 2010."

The cabinet office has set up a Web site for the project. The Charleston Gazette also mentioned the move.

Feds Land Guilty Plea in Scam vs W.Va. Auditor

A native of Kenyan married to a U.S. citizen living in North Carolina has admitted she helped dupe West Virginia's auditor out of nearly $1 million, The Associated Press reports.

The guilty plea to a felony conspiracy count links Angella Muthoni Chegge-Kraszeski to a Kenya-based, Internet-aided scam that also hit officials in at least three other states.

The overall scheme will like prove more extensive than what's been alleged in the criminal charges against Chegge-Kraszeski and five other Kenyans living in the U.S. State Auditor Glen Gainer has reported his office was tricked into transferring nearly $2 million to dummy corporations. The balance of that has not yet been mentioned in court filings.

But the court papers do cast Chegge-Kraszeski as a pawn, deployed by others to conduct such grunt work as registering phony corporations and then setting up shell bank accounts for them.

"I did not know specifically what I was asked to do, but I knew that it was not legal," Chegge-Kraszeski told the judge Monday.

Some interesting tidbits from the AP article:

"The slight, soft-spoken 33-year-old said her role in the plot began late last year, while she was visiting her teenage son in Kenya. A man she said she knew only as 'Jimmy' had her photo taken for what turned out to be a false South African passport that gave her the alias 'Christina Ann Clay.'"

Also, Chegge-Kraszeski "declined to explain to U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. what she had expected to gain from her role in the scheme. Her lawyer, U.S. Public Defender Mary Lou Newberger, said she would reveal that before the sentencing, 'but it was not money.'"

14 December 2009

Keeping West Virginia's PROMISE

Not everyone was pleased with legislation passed this year that aimed to limit the growing costs of West Virginia's merit-based PROMISE scholarship program.

But the Charleston Daily Mail reports that "similar programs in other states are dead or dying."

"Michigan's Republican-led Senate left funding for its Promise Scholarship out of its yearly budget," the article said, while one of Idaho's programs is "experiencing some financial difficulties" and "Washington State phased out its Promise Scholarship in 2004."

Pregnancy and Substance Abuse in West Virginia

A new Marshall University study suggests that "nearly one-fifth of babies in West Virginia are born to mothers who used drugs or alcohol while pregnant, a new study shows -- evidence of a problem far worse than previous research has revealed," The Charleston Gazette reports.

"Researchers found evidence of marijuana use in 7 percent of the samples," the article said. "Five percent of the samples tested positive for alcohol. Five percent tested positive for opiates, which include prescription painkillers."

Tracing Back West Virginia's Agony over OPEB

The Associated Press reports that "much of the uproar over West Virginia's handling of public retiree benefit costs can be traced to a Manchin administration decision to go above and beyond national accounting standards," but adds that "a recent study holds up the approach as one example of a state taking those liabilities seriously."

At least 49 of the state's 55 county school boards object to the 2006 legislation that addresses "other post-employment benefit" or OPEB costs. They plan to sue, and expect to send Gov. Joe Manchin the required 30-day notice this week.

The nonpartisan Center for State and Local Government Excellence offered West Virginia's approach in a September study of efforts to tackle these liabilities head-on.

"Successful or not, West Virginia will no doubt be one of the most watched states in the coming months as governments across the country look for ways to address their own OPEB challenges," its report said.

Update: AP and others report that Monday's meeting of Gov. Joe Manchin's unofficial OPEB workgroup "yielded no proposed solutions."

Occasional Batch O' Stats: Coal

With mining methods a recurring topic these days, recent figures from West Virginia's Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training might provide helpful context.

Byrd Statement Gets Traction

In the wake of an op-ed (with audio) by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., a bipartisan trio of his colleagues have crafted a revised climate change proposal that includes coal among its new provisions, The Associated Press and others report.

The framework outlined by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C.; John Kerry, D-Mass; and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., "provided only a broad view of what a compromise bill would include with details to emerge early next year. But it reflects a widespread view that the climate bill that advanced out of committee in early November would need to be significantly revised for any hope of getting bipartisan support from at least 60 senators."

The Charleston Gazette focuses on the revised proposal's stated goal of "ensuring a future for coal." The framework cites Byrd's statements "that coal will remain a major part of the nation's energy mix, but that some form of climate change legislation likely will become law," that article said.

"We agree with both statements," The Gazette reports, quoting from the outline. "However, due to current regulatory uncertainty, it is increasingly challenging to site new coal facilities, and utilities are switching to other fuel sources."

Kerry's office has posted both the framework proposal and audio from their Capitol Hill press conference.

AP had reported earlier on some industry reactions to Byrd's op-ed. Other reactions can be found here and here.

Gov. Joe Manchin has told the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews (with audio) that he's been left confused by the op-ed. Having held a closed-door powwow last month with coal executives and West Virginia's congressional delegation, "I want to make sure we're still on the same page," Manchin told the newspaper.

11 December 2009

They Voted for You: Wall Street

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped pass legislation Friday that The Associated Press calls "the most ambitious restructuring of financial regulation since the New Deal."

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the measure along with the other House GOP members present for the 223-202 roll call.

"The sprawling legislation gives the government new powers to break up companies that threaten the economy, creates a new agency to oversee consumer banking transactions and shines a light into shadow financial markets that have escaped the oversight of regulators," AP reports. "Republicans argued that the regulations would overreach and would institutionalize bailouts for the financial industry."

The article said a Senate version of the legislation is expected early next year.

"Democratic leaders had to fend off a last-minute attempt to kill a proposed consumer agency, a central element of the legislation and one the features pushed by President Barack Obama," it continued. "While a victory for the Obama administration, the legislation dilutes some of the president's recommendations, carving out exceptions to some of its toughest provisions."

The Return of the House of Warner

By mid-2004, the Warners had become one of the leading political families in West Virginia. Kris Warner was chair of the state GOP. One brother, Monty, was the party's nominee for governor. Another brother, Kasey, was the U.S. Attorney for the state's southern federal court district.

The family's political roots extend back at least to its patriarch, former legislator George "Brud" Warner. But following the May 2004 primary, the family appeared at a pinnacle of political prominence.

The subsequent downfall was quick and thorough.

Monty Warner was beaten badly by Gov. Joe Manchin that November, carrying only three counties and garnering around one-third of the vote.

The campaign spawned a tell-all book that helped illustrate a situation within the state GOP that led to Kris Warner's forced resignation as chairman the following year. Bad feelings about his tenure persist within the party.

The final blow came with Monty Warner's apparent firing by the U.S. Justice Department in August 2005.

Four years later, the family name has resurfaced in West Virginia politics with brother Andrew M. "Mac" Warner gearing up for a 2010 challenge of U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st.

The Mac Warner for Congress committee is holding a Monday fundraiser in Charleston. The Intelligencer of Wheeling offered a partial profile of Warner earlier this month. He also told the Charleston Daily Mail last month that he planned to "spend Thanksgiving finalizing a decision about whether to run."

But Mac Warner is not without his challenges. He was sued last year along with three of his brothers and their real estate development company, McCoy 6 LLC, by a creditor. That and the recession helped prompt McCoy 6 to file for bankruptcy in February.

The Warners' ambitious plans for their Morgantown properties was the subject of a 2008 Public Broadcasting piece (with audio), as was a vow by McCoy 6 to sue the city over its repeated condemnation of a key parcel within those holdings.

McCoy 6 followed through on its threat but has also since surrendered the property at issue, Mountaineer Court, to creditor Fifth Third Bank. It proposed a reorganization plan last month under Chapter 11 that would involve the sale of at least three other key holdings.

10 December 2009

Capito on Short List for Copenhagen (Additional Update)

The Hill includes U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, as a potential member of a congressional delegation that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., plans to take to the climate change conference now underway in Copenhagen.

One of six Republicans on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Capito is also listed as a contributor on the blog created by the National Journal devoted to the United Nations summit.

U.S. participants have also set up their own blog.

Capito told The Charleston Gazette in April that "she's 'not convinced' that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide are leading to global warming that will alter the planet's climate in ways that could be dangerous."

"I'm looking at the studies, and trying to understand it," Capito was quoted as saying. "But I'm not convinced that the urgencies or the doomsday predictions are factual."

Capito made similar comments that month to Public Broadcasting, which reported that "she believes climate change exists, but she doesn’t think it’s as eminent as many make it out to be." With audio.

Along with the rest of West Virginia's House delegation (who do not appear on The Hill's list), Capito later voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The Associated Press described it as a "complex" bill that "would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 percent by midcentury." Capito also opined on the "cap and trade" measure in a press release.

More recently, Capito co-signed a letter to Obama administration officials that seizes on e-mails that AP reports were "stolen from the climate unit at the University of East Anglia."

"Those who deny the influence of man-made climate change have seized on the correspondence to argue that scientists have been conspiring to hide evidence about global warming," that article said. "Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have grilled government scientists on the leaked e-mails in a hearing Wednesday in Washington, but the scientists countered that the e-mails don't change the fact that the Earth is warming."

Update: Capito's office tells AP and others that she plans to attend with the delegation.

Factcheck.org, meanwhile, has assessed the situation involving the stolen East Anglia e-mails.

"Climate skeptics are claiming that they show scientific misconduct that amounts to the complete fabrication of man-made global warming, its article said. "We find that to be unfounded."

2nd Update: After an "exhaustive review" of the 1,073 hacked e-mails, AP reports that the climate scientists involved "harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions."

Politifact, meanwhile, rates as "false" the statement by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., that the e-mails "debunk" the science behind climate change.

09 December 2009

W.Va. Pre-Candidates Lavished with Attention (2nd Update)

With West Virginia's official candidate filing period not starting until Jan. 11, media coverage has turned to the scores of state residents who have filed pre-candidacy papers.

As the secretary of state's office explains, such filings are free and non-committal, allowing "prospective candidates to 'test the waters' to see if seeking office is the right decision."

The reports include one item from The Charleston Gazette on Charleston lawyer Meshea Poore filing for the House of Delegates seat vacated by soon-to-be Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster. While losing to Webster in the 2008 Democratic primary for the 31st District, Poore was one of only a handful of candidates that May to enjoy an "Obama bounce" in West Virginia.

Gov. Joe Manchin will appoint Webster's successor, from names submitted by the district's Democratic committee.

Both The Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail reported on the pre-candidacy of Richie Robb, the former longtime mayor of South Charleston and Republican-turned-Democrat who is courting the teacher union vote in advance of a possible challenge to state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha.

The Associated Press earlier noted the filing from sophomore Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, for a potential primary challenge to U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd.

Rodighiero told AP he expected to file officially if he proved able to raise at least $400,000 for a primary battle he expects will cost $1 million.

"The 46-year-old legislator says coal industry figures approached him several months ago, encouraging him to run," that article said. "They are upset with the Obama administration's handling of mining permits. The 17-term Rahall has come under fire as well. Rodighiero says environmentalists and federal regulators would have no influence over him."

(Corrected) former delegate and unsuccessful 2008 GOP attorney general candidate Dan Greear got ink last week after vowing to challenge Webster for the Kanawha Circuit Court seat. The Daily Mail had an item.

(Update: Greear has not filed precandidacy with the Secretary of State, but a reader points out that those interested in single-county seats file with the county. Kanawha County's clerk notes Greear's filing on its web site.)

(2nd Update) Former nun Virginia Lynch Graf made a splash late last month by filing early to signal a possible challenge to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, with a report from AP. And while he -- apparently -- hasn't filed precandidacy, former Charleston councilman Archie Chestnut won mention in the Daily Mail for saying he may run for Webster's vacated House seat.

W.Va. Lawmakers Eyeing Cigarette Tax Hike

West Virginia's Legislature could debate increasing the cigarette tax during the 2010 regular session that begins next month, with lawmakers arguing that could help curb smoking and ease a threatened revenue shortfall, The Associated Press reports.

"Before the 2009 legislative session, Manchin said he wouldn't pursue any general revenue tax increases, including a cigarette tax hike — a promise he kept," writes AP's Tom Breen. "With the changed budget picture, the governor is now open to hearing lawmakers out on the idea, according to spokesman Matt Turner."

But when quizzed about it during interim meetings, recently confirmed Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Patsy Hardy "demurred, saying she's awaiting research looking into effective ways to encourage healthy behavior among residents," the article said.

AP cites the latest figures from West Virginia's Division of Tobacco Prevention that count nearly 27 percent of state adults smoking cigarettes, "the third highest rate in the country. In addition, nearly 3,800 residents die every year from smoking-related illness, the second highest rate nationally," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette also reported on the cigarette tax proposal, noting that "at 55 cents a pack, West Virginia's tax ranks 43rd in the nation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids." With the average state tax at $1.34, advocates seek to increase West Virginia's to $1.55, that article said.

GOP Targeting Mollohan for Retirement

The National Republican Congressional Committee has included U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, on an "an informal list of 17 members the NRCC believes can be convinced to step down" rather than seek re-election next year, Hotline On Call reports.

"Two Dem retirements in competitive districts have given GOPers new hopes that a wave of open seats can hand them new opportunities," the article explains. "The pressure has largely come from press releases hammering the incumbents, but the NRCC has signaled it will put at least a little money behind the effort."

Hotline reported that the spending totaled just $6,300 last month, for ad buys in three districts. Mollohan's was not among them.

Last week, the Cook Political Report added Mollohan's seat to its chart of 2010 races. While the only West Virginia race to make the chart, it was rated "likely Democratic," meaning that the seat is "not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged."

Thanks to Political Wire for relaying the item.

He Voted For You: Abortion

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockfeller, D-W.Va., voted to idle an amendment that aimed to "inject tougher restrictions into sweeping Senate health care legislation," The Associated Press reports.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd did not take part in the 54-45 roll call that tabled the change proposed by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and others.

"The current legislation would ban the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services under insurance plans expected to be offered in a new health care system, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother was in jeopardy," AP reports. "Individuals who receive federal subsidies to purchase insurance under the plans would be permitted to use personal funds to pay for abortion services _ the point on which the two sides in the dispute part company."

A version of the Senate health care bill is here, while the Nelson amendment SA 2962, is about one-fourth down this page.

08 December 2009

Miley Elevated to House Judiciary Chair

House Judiciary Vice Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, will now take over that committee, The Associated Press reports.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, promoted the 43-year-old lawyer on Tuesday. Thompson also chose multi-term Delegate Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha and a lawyer, as vice chair.

Miley succeeds Carrie Webster, who stepped down Friday after Gov. Joe Manchin appointed her to the Kanawha Circuit bench to replace newly minted U.S. District Court Judge Irene Berger. AP reported earlier on the Webster pick.

The War over Coal in West Virginia

The Associated Press was among those on hand for Monday's appearance by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the latest flashpoint in the debate over coal, a rally outside the state Department of Environmental Protection's Kanawha City headquarters.

"Kennedy spoke as some 300 environmental activists cheered," writes AP's Vicki Smith. "At the same time, 200 coal miners jeered. The groups were kept apart by a line of state troopers and metal barricades."

Smith set the stage for the scene: "Massey plans to blast and mine thousands of acres atop the mountain, which has enough coal reserves to feed power plants for 14 years. Organizations including Coal River Mountain Watch and Climate Ground Zero want Massey to stick with underground mining and allow the ridges to be turned into a 200-turbine wind farm."

The AP report also said that "Before taking the stage, Kennedy waded into the crowd of shouting miners and spent a half-hour debating Massey Vice President of Surface Operations Mike Snelling and others."

The Charleston Gazette also covered the event. So did MetroNews, which also has a separate item on Kennedy accepting Snelling's offer to tour a reclaimed mine site.

Health Care in West Virginia

A new study presented to the Legislature on Monday concludes that "West Virginia's health care system could save over $1.1 billion by going digital and centralizing patient care," The Associated Press reports.

CCRC Actuaries prepared the report for the state Health Care Authority, aided by an array the system's public and private players.

The touted savings "would be seen not just by government agencies, but by private insurers and policyholders, who could benefit directly in the form of lower premiums," AP's Tom Breen writes. "The report should lend urgency to some initiatives that have already begun, like electronic medical records and prescriptions, according to the groups behind its creation."

The Charleston Gazette puts the study's offer of yearly savings at $2.2 billion by citing its discussion of an"aggressive expansion of Medicaid and other health reforms," beginning in 2014.

The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on the projected rise of health care costs "from $13 billion this year to $24 billion in 2019," adding that "the federal government will pay about 30 percent of those costs, policy holders will pay 26 percent and insurers 27 percent. The state and charity care together nearly split the remaining 15 percent."

The latter article offers an estimated annual savings figure of $3 billion, starting in 2019.

07 December 2009

Gambling in West Virginia: Jefferson County OKs Table Games

All four of West Virginia's racetracks can now host casino-style table games after holdout track host Jefferson County approved their use over the weekend, The Associated Press and others report.

"With all of Jefferson County's 32 precincts reporting, the unofficial vote was 6,279-4,343," the AP article said. "Both sides had hoped for strong turnout, mobilizing many of the county's 33,000 registered voters throughout the day with full-page newspaper ads, Facebook pleas and personal phone calls."

While, Hancock, Kanawha and Ohio counties had all voted for adding such games at their tracks in 2007, Jefferson had rejected them that year.

"Total turnout was slightly higher, at 11,072, compared with the 2007 vote," writes AP's Vicki Smith, who notes the changes in voter attitudes but also observes that "the arguments against the games were the same as two years ago: Charles Town will become the next Atlantic City. Gamblers will get addicted faster. The new jobs won't be that great."

Others covering the weekend vote include The Journal of Martinsburg and MetroNews.

West Virginia's Vexing State Road Fund

It seems that the Legislature was just at the Capitol, but lawmakers return this week for December's series of interim meetings.

The Associated Press
reports on one topic slated for discussion that also spurred debate during last month's special session: the State Road Fund.

According to Tom Witt, an associate dean at West Virginia University and head of its Bureau of Business and Economic Research, "the traditional ways to pay for road building and repairs no longer keep pace with needs," the AP article said. "Rising costs of such basic materials as concrete and asphalt are, meanwhile, blunting the buying power of available revenues."

20 November 2009

Special Session Ends

The Legislature ended its latest special session Friday, after passing 10 of the 11 bills that Gov. Joe Manchin put on the agenda.

Gov. Joe Manchin came away with 10 of the 11 bills he proposed for the special legislative session. The House and Senate cast their final votes Friday, staying a day longer than their scheduled series of interim study meetings that began Wednesday.

The Associated Press has details.

19 November 2009

Special Session Goes into Extra Inning

The Legislature has passed the chief reason behind Gov. Joe Manchin's calling them into special session -- a relief proposal for municipal police and fire pension funds -- but plans to return Friday to complete his agenda, The Associated Press reports.

House Republicans have balked at a provision in the gas tax bill that would make permanent what was supposed to be a temporary, nickel-a-gallon hike to the tax.

Enacted in 1993, the provision has been repeatedly extended. Manchin has proposed removing language from the tax statute that would have that increase expire in 2013.

With insufficient support to suspend the rules and allow for a vote on passage earlier than otherwise allowed, the House's Democratic leadership has opted to return Friday morning for that final vote.

The coal industry, meanwhile, has raised questions about Manchin's proposed tinkering with the "25% by 2025" alternative energy incentives legislation passed earlier in the year. That bill would limit the coal-related technologies that would qualify for credits under the program.

18 November 2009

And In Other Special Session News...

After its Finance Committee rejected his "OPEB" measure, the Senate passed most of the other bills that Gov. Joe Manchin placed on his special session agenda, The Associated Press reports.

They include a key reason Manchin called the session, legislation "aimed at easing the burdens of cities and towns across the state struggling with unfunded pension liabilities for police and firefighters," the article said.

All nine of these bills passed to the House unanimously except for one proposing changes to the gas tax. It prevailed 31-2-1.

Special Session: OPEB

The Senate Finance Committee has voted down Gov. Joe Manchin's special session proposal to provide temporary relief from county school boards and others worried about their "other post-employment benefits" or OPEB costs.

As The Associated Press reports, the "nearly unanimous committee instead favored pursuing a long-term solution that also addresses future, promised benefits during the 2010 regular session. It starts in January."

The article also said that "Manchin spokesman Matt Turner noted that the House version of the bill remains alive. The House Finance Committee advanced that version to the full House later Wednesday."

Quote of the Day

"More proof we need term limits."

-- The West Virginia Republican Party's reaction to U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. becoming history's longest-serving member of Congress.

Another Milestone for Byrd

(Official File Photo)

U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd became the longest-serving member in that chamber's history in June 2006. But Wednesday marks an additional endurance record for the West Virginia Democrat (who turns 92 on Friday).

Byrd has become history's longest serving member of Congress. His three terms in the U.S. House combine with this nine in the Senate (also a record) for a total of 20,774 days on Capitol Hill.

That beats the record previously set by Carl Hayden, D-Ariz., who served in the House and then the Senate from 1912 to 1969, The Associated Press reports.

AP also offers this observation:
The arc of Byrd's story is more complex than the numbers would suggest. It's been long enough for him to rescind positions that he once trumpeted, such as his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Lengthy enough to voice his regret, over and over, about joining the Ku Klux Klan a lifetime ago. Long enough to see and cheer the nation's first black president and to watch his one-time rival and later dear friend, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., succumb to brain cancer.
AP offers a video and slide show as well.

The U.S. Senate plans to begin a tribute to Byrd at 9:30 a.m., with C-SPAN offering coverage.

C-SPAN has also posted video from its 2005 interview with the senator, and of a weekend interview with Raymond Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.

Gov. Joe Manchin is helping to headline a 3 p.m. ceremony in the state Capitol rotunda (where the only statue is of Byrd), and has invited West Virginians to mark the occasion.

West Virginia's Republican Party calls the milestone "more proof we need term limits."

The state GOP has also encouraged opponents of federal health care legislation show up at the 3 p.m. Capitol tribute and make their feelings known.

But the Republicans in the House of Delegates present for Tuesday's special session helped to endorse unanimously a Manchin-proposed resolution honoring Byrd (roll call not yet available, but all 100 delegates remain its co-sponsors).

The state Senate is expected to vote on the measure Wednesday.

5 More Charged with Scam vs. W.Va. auditor, other states

Five Kenyan-born residents of Minnesota face federal charges after a grand jury indicted them in connection with the Internet-reliant scam that duped West Virginia's auditor out of nearly $1 million, The Associated Press reports.

But the charges unsealed Tuesday further allege that the conspirators targeted three other states -- Kansas, Massachusetts and neighboring Ohio --and at least temporarily netted another $2.3 million.

Around $770,000 of the diverted money ended up in Kenya. "Most of those funds had come from West Virginia," AP reports. "Officials in the other three states identified in the indictment report that they've since recovered their money."

But as noted when the first suspect in the case was arrested and indicted, the scam will likely prove larger than what's been alleged in the criminal charges made public so far.

"West Virginia was hit by a similar scam that netted around $1 million during the same period," the article said. "Utah officials reported earlier in the year that the same sort of fraud attack diverted $2.5 million. (The initial suspect) was arrested in May after Florida thwarted a ploy attempted there."

17 November 2009

Special Session Arrives

Lawmakers plans to tackle Gov. Joe Manchin's special session agenda in between their previously scheduled monthly interim meetings.

The Associated Press previews the special session, the fourth of the year, and will update as the opening day progresses.

Several other states are or will soon hold special legislative sessions, including Nebraska and Arizona. But those sessions aim to avoid major budget deficits, a crisis situation that West Virginia has so far avoided.

The Legislature has posted the governor's call, as well as the schedule for its three-day series of interim meetings.

MetroNews also sets the stage for the special session, while Manchin tells The Charleston Gazette that he believes lawmakers can wrap it up within the three days they'll already be at the Capitol.

16 November 2009

Study Report: W.Va. Needs New Court, Public Financing Pilot

West Virginia's Independent Commission on Judicial Reform has recommended a half-dozen or so changes to the state's court system, including the addition of a midlevel appeals bench and a pilot program for the public funding of judicial candidates, The Associated Press reports.

The public financing pilot would affect candidates running for one of two Supreme Court seats on the 2012 ballot. The intermediate appeals court would hear certain cases filed with and assigned by the high court, with its six to nine judges sitting on panels of three.

"The report also recommends that the secretary of state publish voter guides on judicial candidates; that the Legislature continue efforts to regulate independent spending in their races; and that the state study a special court for complex, highly technical disputes between businesses," AP reports.

"But beyond that pilot funding program and allowing the governor to appoint the new court's initial judges, (the report) does not recommend any major changes to how the state elects its judges and justices through partisan balloting," the article continues. "It instead urges state lawmakers to wait until the terms of those appointees expire before deciding a permanent selection method. The Legislature should also adopt into law the informal practice of Manchin and his recent predecessors, where advisory committees recommend nominees when judicial vacancies arise, it said."

The commission, appointed by Gov. Joe Manchin and featuring retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor as its honorary chair, has posted its report.

Drug Abuse in W.Va.

The West Virginia Partnership for Community Well-Being has recommended "spending $23.5 million a year in prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery efforts," The Associated Press reports.

"The state currently spends none of its own dollars on any of those areas except treatment," writes AP's Tom Breen. "At the heart of the plan is the creation of county prevention partnerships, one group in each county, to devise local solutions and serve as a channel for state resources."

Breen, whose coverage for AP includes health care issues, had previously reported findings from the Manchin-appointed group that "preventable ailments stemming from alcohol and drug abuse" increased costs for West Virginia's health care system in 2007 to the tune of $116 million."

Guarded Optimism for "Huntington Plan" Bill

Legislation offering help to strapped city pension funds is the key item of this week's special session, and the absence of taxpayer dollars from its provisions should make the difference between passage and defeat, The Associated Press reports.

"Unlike drafts from earlier this year, the pending proposal does not tap insurance policy surcharge revenues for city pension fund relief," the article said. "Rural lawmakers had previously balked at providing such state aid."

Volunteer Fire Departments have also been eyeing that revenue source as they pursue pension-like benefits for members, and as a result have helped kill previous relief efforts.

"If there's no new funding in it, it will be fine,'' Sam Love, a former lawmaker who now lobbies for the volunteer departments, told AP. "If it's amended, I think it will kill the bill.''

13 November 2009

Manchin Issues Special Session Call

Gov. Joe Manchin has called the Legislature into a special session that will coincide with next week's interim meetings and include such topics as municipal pensions, the gas tax and stimulus bonds, The Associated Press reports.

"Another agenda item would offer short-term relief to county school boards concerned about their retirees' non-pension costs," the article said. "Military absentee voting, gubernatorial pardons, a recently adopted alternative energy credit and federal tax law changes are also agenda topics."

The governor has posted the call.

Election 2010: Congress

West Virginia's three U.S. House seats have yet to show up on any of the major rosters of competitive 2010 races.

The Cook Political Report ranks 36 Democrat-held seat as leaning toward the incumbent or as a toss-up. The same is true for a dozen GOP seats.

The Rothenberg Political Report lists 32 Democratic seats as "in play," versus 16 Republican seats.

CQ Politics lists each West Virginia seat as "safe" for its respective party.

National Journal's The Hotline lists 15 races, none in the Mountain State.

12 November 2009

Third Time's the Charm?

For the third time in nearly two years, West Virginia's Supreme Court has overturned a judgment (valued at $86 million with interest included) against Massey Energy Co.

"The 4-1 ruling was again written by Justice Robin Davis, and again concludes that Harman Mining and its president, Hugh Caperton, should have pursued their claims in Virginia under a clause in the contract at issue," The Associated Press reports.

The underlying lawsuit had been filed in 1998, and yielded a 2002 jury verdict in Boone County. The case then took three trips to the state's highest court. During that time, it spawned headline-grabbing photos of a justice socializing with Massey's CEO in Monaco. It also prompted a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court addressing judicial bias.

In a quasi-related case, the state Supreme Court also ruled 4-1 against AP over a Freedom of Information Act request it filed in the wake of the Monaco photos. This decision concludes that "that public officials and public employees can keep their personal e-mails secret," AP reports.

Quote of the Day

"I think [reform advocates] are deceiving the public into thinking that the uninsured do not have access to health care and dental care."

-- Melody Potter, chair of the Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee, while alleging to The Charleston Gazette that a Charleston clinic violated federal tax laws by engaging in political activity.

West Virginia: Almost Nothing Like California

...And that's a good thing, according to a new Pew Center on the States report. It reviews various economic indicators for signs of the sorts of fiscal distress that have rocked the Golden State.

The findings: at least nine other states "are also barreling toward economic disaster, raising the likelihood of higher taxes, more government layoffs and deep cuts in services," The Associated Press reports. "

"Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are also at grave risk," the article said, citing the Pew review. "Double-digit budget gaps, rising unemployment, high foreclosure rates and built-in budget constraints are the key reasons."

The study includes West Virginia among 10 states "least similar to California," and also awards it a "B" grade for its money management practices.

AP had earlier contrasted West Virginia's recent bad budgetary news with reports emerging from other states.

11 November 2009

Quote of the Day

"Essentially, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We've still got quite a bit of tunnel to get through."

-- George Hammond, associate director of West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, as quoted by The Associated Press during Wednesday's forecast forum.

Looking for the Rebound in W.Va.

West Virginia shouldn't expect to replace the 22,600 lost during the "Great Recession" until 2013, according to an economic outlook forum covered by The Associated Press and others.

West Virginia University's Bureau of Business and Economic Research helped put on the conference, which featured speakers from WVU, the Manchin Administration and Standard & Poor's.

"The state economy should begin producing more jobs than it loses around the middle of 2010," reports AP Business Writer Tim Huber. "But the recovery is expected to be sluggish and centered on service industry jobs rather than energy."

Other reports come from the Charleston Daily Mail, The Charleston Gazette , and MetroNews (with audio).

Lawmakers Still Hearing Special Session Talk

The Manchin administration has yet to make it official, but legislators are expecting next week's round of monthly interim meetings to dovetail with a special session, The Charleston Gazette reports.

At a Tuesday conference on transportation, Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, "predicted that highway funding would be one of nine items on the call for the special session," the article said.

Last month, lawmakers relayed a short list of session call items to The Associated Press, and Gov. Joe Manchin would not rule one out earlier this month.

W.Va. Puts Medicaid Plans on Hold

With Congress talking health care, the Manchin administration has yet to move on its earlier announced goal of expanding West Virginia's Medicaid program, The Associated Press reports.

AP's Tom Breen also writes that Gov. Joe Manchin's plan to extend coverage to "adults earning up to 50 percent of the federal poverty level, or $10,830 for individuals, would also increase state spending, an increasingly difficult course of action as the bad economy saps revenue."

"About 271,000 of West Virginia's 1.8 million residents lack health insurance," the article said. "Very few adults are allowed to participate in Medicaid in West Virginia. Currently, it's available to parents earning up to 35 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Manchin's proposal would have increased that to 50 percent, and would have allowed adults without children to enroll."

10 November 2009

Unions Pitch Takeover of WV PEIA

As the Public Employees Insurance Agency weighs cost increases for its policyholders, "several of West Virginia's largest unions are proposing that they take control of the state's mammoth health insurance plan," the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

"The unions essentially would replace the finance board that oversees the state's (PEIA)" the article said, with the state putting funding "into a union-managed trust fund."

State officials held off responding pending further study of the proposal, the newspaper reported. It also noted that the group making the pitch "includes the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers but not the other major teachers union, the West Virginia Education Association."

Manchin Convenes Private Coal Powwow (Updated)

Gov. Joe Manchin plans to hold a closed-door meeting at the state Capitol this hour "on the future of coal in West Virginia with government, industry and labor representatives," The Associated Press and others report.

(Update: AP covered the press briefing that followed, as did The Charleston Gazette, MetroNews (with audio), Public Broadcasting, the Charleston Daily Mail, WOWK-TV (with video) and The State Journal.)

The carboncentric confab "was requested by county commissioners from Boone, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan and Mingo counties who are worried about how proposed federal actions could affect coal revenues," Manchin spokesman Matt Turner tells AP.

Attendees could include coal company CEOs, industry lobbyists and members of West Virginia's congressional delegation. The Gazette has details.

In advance of the meeting, environmental groups told AP they should have been offered a seat at the table.

"Neither the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition nor Coal River Mountain Watch plans to protest Tuesday's meeting in Charleston," that article said. "But both say it proves the coal industry's needs are more important than those of citizens."

West Virginia: The Sourpuss State

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranks West Virginia last among the state in its latest measurement of "individual and collective health and well-being."

West Virginia also placed 50th in the three of the happiness survey's six sub-categories: emotional health, physical health and life evaluation.

"On average, well-being was highest in the Mountain states and West Coast states, followed by the Eastern Seaboard and then the Midwest and Southern states," LiveScience reports. "The researchers note that because a state scores high or low doesn't mean you could pluck out a resident and expect that person to be appropriately cheery or depressed. And not every state in the union sits exactly where you might expect on the list."

The article also noted this finding:

Of the personality factors, neuroticism took a toll on a state's cheery count, suggesting people living in the happiest states are more relaxed than their gloomy counterparts. For instance, West Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky were ranked as highly neurotic and showed lower well-being scores. Utah, on the other hand, had a significantly lower level of neuroticism than other states.

09 November 2009

Even More on the Health Care Bill (Updated)

  • The 176 House Republicans who voted for the health care bill amendment that would "impose tough new restrictions on abortion coverage" included U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, and the other five House GOP women endorsed by The WISH List, "America's largest fundraising network for pro-choice Republican women candidates." (U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz., voted "present.")
  • The Congressional Budget Office provided a $1 trillion cost estimate for the legislative in advance of the bill's passage, which was seized on by both friends and foes of the measure.
  • Citing that estimate and "numerous Democratic officials," The Associated Press pegged its overall costs at "$1.2 trillion or more over a decade...far higher than the $900 billion cited by President Barack Obama as a price tag for his reform plan." It would also "reduce deficits by at least $50 billion over 10 years and perhaps as much as $120 billion, the article said, and "slow the rate of growth of the giant Medicare program from 6.6 percent annually to 5.3 percent."
  • The House Republican Conference issued an analysis highly critical of the bill. Politifact.com reviewed a dozen of its key points and rated two of them "True," five of them "Half-True" and five of them "False."
  • FactCheck.org focused on the CBO estimate that "the so-called "public plan" in the revised bill wouldn’t offer much in the way of competition to private insurers... But Republicans are still recycling 'government-run' claims and old analyses that don’t pertain to the bill."
  • A champion of the House bill, the AFL-CIO, has paid for ads invoking it to criticize the emerging Senate version of health care legislation. FactCheck rated the ad "misleading."
  • The CBO also analyzed the GOP alternative. As AP reported, CBO found that it "would reduce the number of uninsured by just 3 million in 2019. By comparison, the more expansive Democratic bill would gain coverage for 36 million." The Republican plan also offered to "reduce federal deficits by $68 billion over the 10-year period and push down premiums for privately insured people," that article said.
  • Politifact offers a review of the GOP alternative as well, as well as an overview of dueling claims regarding the different approaches to health care legislation contained in a tidy form of Bingo.
  • (Update) Politifact rates as "False" the allegation by Rep. Nita Lowery, D-N.Y., that the abortion-related amendment "puts new restrictions on women's access to abortion coverage in the private health insurance market even when they would pay premiums with their own money."

Election 2010: Congress

The Associated Press assesses the field in West Virginia's 2nd U.S. House District, where Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has held sway since the 2000 election.

"Whether wary of predictions that next year's election will be favorable to Republicans in general or simply weary after five costly, high-profile failures at ousting the state's lone congressional Republican, potential Capito challengers are scarce in the 2nd District," AP's Tom Breen writes.

(Headline corrected from "Election 2012")

Quote of the Day

"This batch of money is going to end, and we here in West Virginia, we've told agencies and that's the way we're proceeding, 'Don't go out there and hire employees and stuff. This is only short-term money, it's going to go away.' "

-- State Budget Director Mike McKown, to the Charleston Daily Mail on the finite nature of the federal stimulus funding, and the "pressure for a second round of stimulus spending."

West Virginia's Fiscal Woes

Last week brought the bad news that both general tax and State Road Fund revenues were failing to match projections, with deficits threatening both components of the overall government budget.

The Associated Press follows up by reviewing the situation elsewhere.

"Before West Virginia's news, half the states had reported deficit threats in the opening months of their budget years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures," the article said. "While four of those states have yet to estimate their shortfalls, the rest predict gaps that totaled $12.9 billion as of Oct. 30. The dismal roster includes three of West Virginia's neighbors."

AP also notes that "the National Association of State Budget Officers has also been tracking the worsening fiscal landscapes. Its Twitter account has relayed a steady stream of bad news from dozens of states since the month began."

The gloom-and-doom includes talk of tax hikes, special legislative sessions to cut in-progress budgets, furloughed and laid-off public workers and crimped services.

For now, at least, "Gov. Joe Manchin is banking on reduced spending and a special reserve of $168 million to keep the general revenue budget balanced" for West Virginia, AP reports.

More on the Health Care Bill

The Associated Press offers a summary of the health care legislation passed by the U.S. House, and also reports that the "government health insurance plan included in the House bill is unacceptable to a few Democratic moderates who hold the balance of power in the Senate."

AP, the News and Sentinel of Parkersburg and MetroNews are among those checking in West Virginia's House delegation after the weekend vote.

AP reports as well that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, the sole delegation member to vote against the bill, has asked the state Department of Health and Human Resources for a cost impact estimate.

"The federal legislation would increase the number of people eligible for health insurance through the Medicaid program," the article said. "Increasing the eligible Medicaid population, Capito says, could be a significant burden on West Virginia's finances."

08 November 2009

They Voted for You: Health Care (Updated)

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped the House pass the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against the bill in the 220-215 roll call, as did all but one of the chamber's GOP members.

Passage followed a successful amendment that would "impose tough new restrictions on abortion coverage in insurance policies to be sold to many individuals and small groups," The Associated Press reports.

Mollohan, Capito and Rahall all voted for that amendment in a 240-194 roll call.

"Ironically, that only solidified support for the legislation, clearing the way for conservative Democrats to vote for it," the AP article said.

AP also explains the road ahead for the legislation, while outlining its key provisions:

The legislation would require most Americans to carry insurance and provide federal subsidies to those who otherwise could not afford it. Large companies would have to offer coverage to their employees. Both consumers and companies would be slapped with penalties if they defied the government's mandates.

Insurance industry practices such as denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions would be banned, and insurers would no longer be able to charge higher premiums on the basis of gender or medical history. In a further slap, the industry would lose its exemption from federal antitrust restrictions on price gouging, bid rigging and market allocation.
Update: Before the bill's passage, the House rejected by 258-176 an amendment that would have substituted a GOP-crafted alternative.

Capito co-sponsored that amendment and voted for it, while Mollohan and Rahall voted against.

The GOP version "would have lowered costs for people with insurance but done little or nothing to expand coverage to those without any," AP reports separately. "Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Ill., opposed the measure and was the only lawmaker to cross party lines."

06 November 2009

W.Va. and Obama

A French television news channel recently visited the Parkersburg area for a report on how "anti-Obama sentiments run high in the Mountain State," Public Broadcasting reports.

Those interviewed included Ron Lott, who described himself as a Vietnam veteran and who espoused the widely, thoroughly and exhaustively discredited allegation that the president is not a "natural born citizen."

“He’s a Kenyan born nationalist, and I believe that any man that wants to hold the highest office in this country who can’t produce a birth certificate is a fake,” Lott is quoted as telling France 24.

Public Broadcasting also offers audio.

Report: Feds Issue Subpoenas after MU/Perdue Episode

Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Marshall University's provost and the professor at the center of a grade-changing controversy involving the daughter of state Treasurer John Perdue, the Charleston Daily Mail reports.

The professor, Laura Wyant, told the newspaper that "she had been asked to bring before the grand jury all records in her possession related to Emily Perdue," the treasurer's daughter whose grades are at issue in the matter.

"(Wyant) said the FBI also interviewed her recently," the article said. "Nelson Sorah, a spokesman for Treasurer Perdue, said the office had received 'not a word' from federal investigators."

Marshall's student newspaper, The Parthenon, also reports on Wyant's subpoena.

Wyant earlier told that newspaper that the FBI had contacted her "and expressed concern that she was asked to falsify grades for the daughter of an elected state official."

Wyant said the FBI told her they were investigating whether records were falsified -- "and that’s a felony," she told the newspaper -- and "whether John Perdue violated the state ethics law" that says that "hose in public service should use their positions for the public benefit and not for their own private gain or the private gain of another.”

05 November 2009

W.Va. Still Looking At Cell Phone Ban for Motorists

Citing deaths blamed on distracted drivers, West Virginia lawmakers haven't given up on banning hands-on devices for those behind the wheel and now may get some federal help, The Associated Press reports.

"Two efforts may converge if millions of federal dollars are set aside for states that adopt such restrictions," AP's Tom Breen writes. "The money could help speed along the passage of a bill that only failed in this year's legislative session because of a last-minute amendment."

Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie sponsored the legislation this year and plans to introduce it during the 2010 session, the article said, while the federal money would come from a bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

The article also notes that the 2009 attempt "passed by a wide margin in the House of Delegates and Senate passage seemed likely, except for the addition of an amendment relating to the placement of cell phone towers in the state. With time running out on the session's last night, the House and Senate couldn't come to an agreement on the amendment and the bill died."

And while an interim study committee is crafting a 2010 version, it "currently focuses mostly on texting while driving," the article said.