06 February 2009

Quote of the Day

“This country wasn’t built on handouts. We didn’t become leader of the free world by waiting on someone to give us a handout.”

-- Gov. Joe Manchin, responding to a question about the federal stimulus bill during Thursday's Legislative Lookahead forum held by The Associated Press.

Looking Ahead to the Legislative Session

Reporters and editors from around the state got a hint at some of the issues on tap for the upcoming 60-day session, at a Thursday forum held by The Associated Press:

  • Gov. Joe Manchin hinted at both tax relief and possible premium increases for the unemployment compensation fund, AP reports.;
  • But after Manchin re-issued his pledge against raising taxes, at least for general revenue, a pair of legislative leaders touted a hefty cigarette tax hike as a way to further health care coverage, AP also reports;
  • AP reports as well on the expected roles coal and natural gas will play in the state's revenue picture for the short-term, with Thursday's discussion also turning to the environmental concerns from each.
Others reporting from the Legislative Lookahead include The Charleston Gazette and the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington (additional article here).

West Virginia's Incredible Shrinking Budget Surplus

The recession and bad timing for collections (the month ended on a Saturday, delaying receipts) marred West Virginia's general revenue for January, The Associated Press reports.

The poor showing -- $46 million below estimate -- reduced the year-to-day budget surplus by about two-thirds, to $28 million. But tax officials still expect to end the year June 30 in the black -- unlike at least 43 other states.

"But January's figures show more evidence that the two factors that have kept West Virginia fiscally healthier than most other states — coal and the lottery — are starting to fade," the AP aricle said.

Bernie Madoff's West Virginia Victims: 1

A search of the 13,000+ names of the victims of Bernard Madoff's $50 billion ponzi (a 162-page list, found here among other places) appears to reveal just one Mountain State resident among the Wall Street figures clients.

The listing is for a limited partnership set up by a Summers County man in September 2007. No indication of its losses from the list.

Update: The Charleston Daily Mail has a story on Hinton's Larry Levine, while The Associated Press reports on the overall victim/client list.

05 February 2009

Massey Gains Allies in U.S. Supreme Court Fight

Massey Energy has attracted its own share of public officials in support of its position in the pending U.S. Supreme Court appeal brought by Harman Mining, The Associated Press reports.

A group of 10 current and former justices, the attorney general's offices of seven states, a pair of law professors and the James Madison Center for Free Speech have filed "friend of the court" briefs on Massey's behalf.

Harman and its president argue that state Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself before twice voting to overturn the $50 million verdict they had won against Massey. The petitioners cite the more than $3 million that Massey CEO Don Blankenship spent to help Benjamin get elected.

Wednesday's amici briefs argue otherwise. The American Bar Association and the Brennan Center of Justice each offer links to those briefs. The Charleston Gazette also has an item.

Harman's side attracted 10 briefs from 47 different entities (including the ABA, the Brennan Center, and a group of 27 former justices) supporting its argument, while Benjamin's peers on the Conference of Chief Justices raised a question about his presence on the Massey case without taking sides. The above sites offer those earlier briefs as well.

Century Closing

After a concerted effort from Gov. Joe Manchin, West Virginia's congressional delegation and other officials to keep it going, "Century Aluminum of West Virginia's Ravenswood smelter is closed and a majority of its 651 remaining employees will be laid off by Feb. 20," The Associated Press reports, citing the company's parent.

Others with coverage include The News and Sentinel of Parkersburg, The Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail, MetroNews (with audio), and Public Broadcasting (also with audio). Several note the attempts by government officials to stave off closure, with some also observing possible aid to Century's workers from the pending federal stimulus package.

04 February 2009

WV GOP Touts Fundraising

The Associated Press focuses on efforts by West Virginia's Republican Party to step up fundraising in the wake of disappointing back-to-back election cycles.

GOP officials say "the party raised nearly $19,000 last month, including about $7,500 from a new direct mail effort," after attracting just $717 the previous month. The party boasts it entered February with a $26,000 cash balance.

But the Republicans also have additional expenses following the 2008 election season, with the (re-)hiring of Gary Abernathy as executive director.

The party's December report shows that he was paid a $1,500 "executive director consulting fee" that month.

The Democrats reported raising $2,572 in December and ending that month with $67,700 on hand.

With a voter advantage of nearly 2-to-1, West Virginia's Democrats dominated the GOP in fundraising last year. They raised nearly twice as much from contributors, but also fielded 13 times as much in transfers from national party organizations and members of Congress. This edge allowed the state party to outspend its Republican counterpart by more than 4-to-1, while maintaining a cash balance each month that averaged $83,022 more than the GOP's.

January's reports from both parties to the Federal Election Commission aren't due until later this month.

Quote of the Day

"Let's get this straight: These guys are going to Vegas to roll the dice on the taxpayer dime? They're tone deaf. It's outrageous."

-- U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, when told by The Associated Press that "Wells Fargo & Co., which received $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, is planning a series of corporate junkets to Las Vegas casinos this month."

(Update: Wells Fargo has "abruptly canceled" the trip after initially defending them, AP reports.)

03 February 2009

Caring for West Virginians, Young and Old

A pair of recent reports highlight actual or potential shortcomings in the care provided to those starting out and winding down in the Mountain State.

The Associated Press was among those who picked up on a new review that shows that only 8 percent of the state's child care centers are accredited "and the state lacks a system to measure whether the 64,000 children in the centers are receiving quality care."

The Charleston Gazette, meanwhile, analyzed a new federal rating system to report that while 12 of 130 West Virginia nursing home programs "got five-star ratings ('much above average')," 34 received just one star and a "well below average" rating.

That article explains the rating, fields reaction and links to the federal data and rating system.

Sizing Up W.Va.'s Share of the Federal Stimulus

With the Senate debating a federal stimulus package, and the House having passed its own version of the bill, West Virginians have begun eyeing their potential share of the funding.

As The Associated Press reported earlier, West Virginia the House version included an estimated $1.4 billion for the Mountain State. Both The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail consider the funding possible for the state's education needs.

Public Broadcasting, meanwhile, notes the power Gov. Joe Manchin holds for parceling out some of the federal funds. "Some of the proposed stimulus money leaves no room for discussion, such as funding for Medicaid," that article said. "It will be Governor Manchin who decides which infrastructure projects receive funding." (Audio here.)

The Gazette also reports that Charleston city officials are seeking stimulus dollars.

Update: Public Broadcasting spoke to U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, about her "no" vote against the House version.

"According to the U.S. Votes database on the Washington Post Web site, Capito actually has been more likely to vote with her fellow Republicans than average," that article said. "Since she won election in 2000, Capito has voted about 92 percent of the time with Republicans, compared to an average of 89 percent."

Audio here. The article notes that Public Broadcasting next plans to interview Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., about the stimulus legislation.

02 February 2009

Benjamin Off Massey Cases

West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin has recused himself from all Massey Energy-related matters, pending a high-profile appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, The Associated Press reports.

With a hearing set for March, that pending case has attracted 11 "friend of the court" briefs" from 48 different entities questioning Benjamin's presence in a $50 million coal contract dispute involving Massey.

"Benjamin says in a memo Saturday that it would be personally and judicially disrespectful to participate in cases involving Massey until the high court finishes its review," AP reports.

AP had earlier reported that Benjamin had intended to hear a Massey-related case scheduled for last week. That case has since been postponed until April. (A court spokeswoman initially told AP that Benjamin would not disqualify himself, but later said he was awaiting any requests for his recusal before deciding whether to remain.)

Massey recently filed its brief in the pending U.S. Supreme Court appeal, The Charleston Gazette reported. Massey expects "friend of the court" briefs supporting its position by Thursday.

Others with reports of Benjamin's recusal include MetroNews and WOWK-TV.
Update: The Charleston Gazette also has a report.

Ex-Manchin Aide Heading to Lobbying Firm

Gov. Joe Manchin's just-departed deputy chief of staff is joining a new lobbying firm headed by the state Democratic Party chairman, The Associated Press reports.

Joe Martin, who left the administration Friday, is the first hire for LGCR Government Solutions LLC, an offshoot of the Lewis, Glasser, Casey & Rollins law firm.

Firm partner Nick Casey, the Manchin-appointed state party chairman, is LGCR's manager according to the paperwork filed Friday setting it up.

Martin recently asked the state Ethics Commission "for a 'revolving door' exemption that would allow him to look for a new job," The Charleston Gazette reported last month.

"Under state ethics law, public officials may not seek employment with any businesses or individuals that they had regulatory or policy making authority over for 12 months after leaving government service," that article explains.

LGCR "provides government relations solutions at the state, federal and local levels," and works with associations, grassroots groups and political action committees, it said in a release.

DCCC Targeting Capito Over Stimulus Vote

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee lists U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, among 28 House GOP members it plans to attack with radio ads and a "grassroots initiative" after their caucus opposed last week's stimulus bill en masse.

Politico has an item on the DCCC announcement. That in turn cites an earlier Politico report that House Republicans assembled at Virginia's posh Homestead resort last week "rose in a standing ovation" when shown C-SPAN video of the stimulus vote.

The Toll on the W.Va. Turnpike

The Associated Press offers an overview of the West Virginia Turnpike's funding situation and road conditions, in advance of its parent agency's expected push for a toll hike.

AP took part in last week's media tour of the 88-mile highway, which focused on the effects wrought by Mother Nature and deferred maintenance. Others on the two-day review included The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail, The Register-Herald of Beckley, MetroNews (with photos and audio) , WOWK-TV and the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

Update: Public Broadcasting also has an item, and audio.