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."