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.