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."