31 July 2009

Manchin to Discuss W.Va.'s Fiscal Health (Updated)

Gov. Joe Manchin has set a Friday morning press conference to talk about the financial condition of West Virginia state government, The Associated Press reports.

(Update: Manchin has proposed a $500 bonus-like payment to each of the state's 51,000 or so full-time employees, fueled by unexpected lottery and general revenue surpluses that total $65 million. But he's also socking away half the funds to help with future budgets, while also seeking 5 percent cuts from state agencies during the next budget year. AP has details, as does MetroNews and WOWK-TV.)

With the recession continuing to wreak havoc on state budgets across the country, West Virginia endured a tight fiscal year during the 12 months that ended June 30. Manchin officials dampened their revenue expectations for the 2009-2010 year, and lawmakers pared down the new budget as a result.

Manchin offered no details before his press event. The Associated Press reported some silver linings to the state's financial picture when the budget year ended -- while adding that that continuing economic troubles and other factors "overshadow each fiscal indicator."

30 July 2009

PEIA Board to Vote, Again, on Retiree Subsidies (Updated)

Future West Virginia employees could lose a major perk, and with it a huge funding headache for the state, if the Public Employees Insurance Agency sticks with its initial proposal to end retiree health subsidies.

The Associated Press previews Thursday's finance board meeting, as does MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette.

(Update: The board affirmed a halt to future subsidies, but delayed the change six month so it starts with employees hired after June 2010. AP has details, as does The Charleston Gazette and MetroNews.)

The board meets " in the wake of public hearings held across the state to air the subsidy question," AP explains. "Board members voted earlier to halt subsidies for employees hired after this year. They then held off a final decision to allow public input, but may still face a legal challenge over its handling of the issue."

29 July 2009

DaughterGate Figure Named Mylan President

The new president of generic drug giant Mylan Inc. is the daughter of Gov. Joe Manchin whose receipt of a graduate degree from West Virginia University embroiled that school in an administation-toppling controversey.

The Associated Press is among those reporting on this week's promotion of Heather Bresch, who has been the company's chief operating officer.

Others with coverage include the Charleston Daily Mail, MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette.

Mezz Makes It Happen, Again (UPDATED)

Disgraced former House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, having recently won his way back into an administrative job with Hampshire County's school board, has agreed to resign in exchange for full retirement benefits, MetroNews reports.

"In exchange for Mezzatesta's resignation, the school board has agreed to pay into the state retirement fund the contributions Mezzatesta lost when he was wasn't working between 2005-2009," the report said. "The school board has also agreed to grant Mezzatesta 100 vacation days and 90 personal leave days that will be converted into health insurance coverage."

The deal must still be approved by the state's Consolidated Public Retirement Board, MetroNews noted.

Update: The Associated Press reports that the estimated price tag of the Mezzatesta deal is around $192,000.

The article is drawn largely from The Hampshire Review. While the full article requires a subscription, the newspaper has posted text of the settlement agreement.

The agreement says that if the state board rejects the deal, Mezzatesta "may elect to initiate a declaratory judgment action seeking to compel the Consolidated Public Retirement Board to accept the aforesaid payment."

Hampshire County School Board President Bernie Hott said "the agreement isn’t covered by the school system’s insurance company, but will instead come from 'our county (school) coffer,'" an online blurb for the newspaper article noted.

27 July 2009

W.Va. Dropping Ball on Stimulus Sewer Funding?

MetroNews reports that West Virginia may end up not spending millions of federal dollars meant to build and improve sewer systems.

"The state has been allocated $61 million dollars in a loan fund, but with an August 17 deadline to have bids approved quickly approaching, only six projects equaling $10 million have been approved," the report said. "State Department of Environmental Protection Spokesperson Kathy Cosco says 11 other sewer projects with a total price tag of $19 million should meet the upcoming deadline."

Jefferson Weighs Re-Vote on Table Games

The Associated Press reports that "two years to reconsider, a faltering economy and a new deal that would give host communities a bigger slice of the financial pie are creating momentum for a second vote on whether to let Charles Town Races & Slots put poker, roulette and other table games alongside more than 5,000 slot machines."

Of the state's four counties that host racetracks, Jefferson County was alone in 2007 in rejecting the addition of the casino games, "by a 12-point margin, 56 percent to 44 percent," writes AP's Vicki Smith.

But since then, "unemployment has more than doubled," and "there is a growing threat that nearby Maryland's venture into slots will lure away thousands who have come to the Eastern Panhandle to gamble," the article said.

The Legislature also added an incentive during a recent special session, with a measure that "would double the percentage of revenue distributed to counties and cities that host the state's four racetrack casinos," if Jefferson approves table games, Smith writes.

Smith also reports that "passage is no sure bet. Support appears to be lukewarm in one potentially powerful voting block, the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association."

The move comes amid final figures from the 2009 budget year, which ended June 30 and saw revenues drop at Charles Town and two of the state's other tracks.

W.Va. Home Rule Project under Fire

A group of insurance companies has sued over Huntington's approach to the state's ongoing "home rule" pilot project, prompting a local lawmaker to urge repeal of the city ordinance at issue, the Herald-Dispatch reports.

As the newspaper explains, a 2008 state panel "chose Huntington, Charleston, Bridgeport and Wheeling to participate in a five-year pilot home rule program created by the Legislature. The intent of the program is to give cities more autonomy on taxation and administrative and personnel issues."

The West Virginia Insurance Federation objects to a resulting Huntington ordinance "that allows the city to withhold insurance claim proceeds from property owners if they don't tear down their fire-damaged structures," the article said. "Huntington's ordinance requires insurance companies to withhold $2,000 from every $15,000 of benefits payable to a policyholder on every total fire loss within the city. The withheld proceeds would be placed in escrow by the city and not released until all debris has been removed."

Delegate Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, has asked city officials to remove the threat to the overall pilot project. He's also issued an open letter to Mayor Kim Wolfe, the Herald-Dispatch reports.

W.Va. GOP Sees Mixed Results from Fundraising Goal

Halfway through 2009, The Associated Press checks the progress of West Virginia's Republican Party toward its goal of improved fundraising this year.

"The party's main political fund attracted $83,213 from individual donors between January and June," the article said. "When averaged, the monthly intake exceeds the $12,000 monthly goal set by Chairman Doug McKinney."

The GOP has also raised more, per member, than the state's much larger Democratic Party. "But the six-month total is also below that of the same period in 2008, an election year, or 2007," AP reports. "And at a time when the Republican Party searches for a new, $40,000-a-year executive director, it began July with less than $14,000 left in that account."

McKinney attributes several factors to the results so far, including the recession, an insufficient example from the party's 137 executive committee members, donors who fear repercussions from Democrats, and critics within the party.

But "some of them contend he and his leadership team offer the party rank-and-file few reasons to give.," the article said. "The party activists who differ with McKinney, whose term ends next July, also believe the recession and emerging Obama administration policies give the party ways to lure donors."

And while they lag behind the Republicans in contributions from individuals, "the Democrats maintain two key funding edges over the GOP: their annual fall Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner, and the often hefty transfers from the national party and its members of the state's congressional delegation."