05 February 2010

They Voted for You: Paygo

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, helped the House pass the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, voted against what The Associated Press called "budget rules designed to curb a spiraling upward annual deficit."

All House GOP members presents opposed passage in the 233-187 roll call. It followed the much more narrow vote for the Republican-opposed measure increasing the cap on federal borrowing.

Meant as a companion proposal to that measure, "the new rules - known as "paygo" - would require future spending increases or tax cuts to be paid for with either cuts to other programs or equivalent tax increases," AP reports. "If the rules are broken, the White House budget office would force automatic cuts to programs like Medicare, farm subsidies and unemployment insurance. Current rules lack such teeth and commonly have been waived over the past few years at a cost of about $1 trillion."

But Republicans questioned the strength of the new rules. "Most other benefit programs - including Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps - would be exempt from such cuts," the article said.

They Voted for You: Debt

U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-1st, and Nick Rahall, D-3rd, voted to increase the statutory limit on the public debt by $1.9 trillion.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-2nd, opposed the measure, which prevailed 217-212.

"The huge debt increase," The Associated Press reports, "is only enough to keep the government afloat for about another year as it borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar it spends on programs like defense, health care, feeding the poor and protecting the environment. The budget tops $3.7 trillion this year and the deficit's approaching $1.6 trillion under the budget submitted by President Barack Obama this week."

The article also said that "already, the accumulated debt amounts to roughly $40,000 per person," and that the vote increases the cap on federal borrowing to $14.3 trillion.

Thirty-seven Democrats, mostly from GOP-leaning districts, voted against the measure," the article said. "So did every Republican, even though they routinely supported prior increases in the borrowing cap when their party controlled Congress or when Republican George W. Bush was president."

Higher Ed Faces Funding Crunch

The Associated Press reports that "pressured by Gov. Joe Manchin to keep tuition rates in check this year, West Virginia's public colleges and universities are warning lawmakers that a funding crisis is near."

Officials told the House Finance Committee that federal stimulus funds will help them comply with the one-year freeze sought by Manchin. But Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Brian Noland said "the funding issue is particularly critical given the record-setting enrollment of 93,712 students in West Virginia's four- and two-year institutions," the article said.

"If we continue to increase enrollment but something does not move with revenues, and here I'm talking fees, it's a lot like trying to eat soup," Noland was quoted as saying. "I can thin the soup and thin the soup and thin the soup, but sooner or later there's not going to be any meat, not going to be any noodles."

Some lawmakers object to Manchin's freeze, including Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale. "The Wayne County Democrat argued that such decisions should be left with the two commissions that oversee the four- and two-year schools," AP reports.

Others with coverage include The Charleston Gazette.

04 February 2010

Legislature 2010: Day 23 (Updated)

  • An Upshur County lawmaker shared his son's struggle with drug addiction while urging fellow House members to support his proposal for funding treatment problems by hiking the beer tax by a penny a bottle, The Charleston Gazette reports.
  • Both The Gazette and MetroNews report "on a hotly debated proposal to let optometrists expand the scope of their practice."
  • A trio of GOP lawmakers "are calling on Gov. Joe Manchin's administration to perform an accounting of all unfilled jobs in state government.," the Herald-Dispatch of Huntington reports.
  • Public Broadcasting reports that lawmakers were concerned to learn that the state's Crime Victims Compensation Fund devotes "about $100,000 a year helping to make residences that have been used as meth labs livable again." With audio.

Manchin Back from the White House (2nd Update)

President Barack Obama greeted Gov. Joe Manchin and others attending a White House meeting on coal by announcing "a new task force to study ways to increase the use of coal in meeting the nation's energy needs without increasing the pollution that contributes to global warming," The Associated Press reports.

Obama called coal "one of our most abundant energy resources," the article said, and added that "If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future."

The AP also notes that "the White House meeting comes a day after Obama signaled a willingness to separate a controversial cap-and-trade proposal aimed at limiting carbon pollution from more attractive green energy jobs and energy efficiency proposals. The House approved the anti-pollution measure last year as part of a comprehensive energy bill, but it is unlikely to win Republican support on Capitol Hill."

Manchin sat on the other side of Vice President Joe Biden from Obama during the meeting, according to AP photos and AFP photos from the event.

Manchin issued a statement afterward, and spoke with West Virginia reporter as well. Those with resulting coverage include (updated):

Update: Manchin also recounted his White House meeting to the West Virginia Coal Symposium, the Daily Mail reports.

Update II: In the wake of the White House energy summit, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller grilled Obama budget chief Peter Orszag about his boss' stance on coal, The New York Times reports.

Rockefeller at one point told Orszag that "he isn't sure he trusts the president's commitments to coal, even as Obama promotes the fossil fuel through a series of other administration actions," the article said.

"He says it in his speeches, but he doesn't say it in here," Rockefeller is quoted as saying, referring to the budget proposal. "He doesn't say it in the actions of [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson. And he doesn't say it in the minds of my own people. And he's beginning to not be believable to me. So I want you to put me at rest or put me away."

The Senate Finance Committee has posted video of the hearing. Rockefeller's questioning begins around 59:45.

Legislature 2010: Property Taxes

Gov. Joe Manchin has won over county leaders skittish about his quest to exempt business inventory and equipment from property taxes, by tweaking his proposed constitutional amendment that aims to exempt, The Associated Press reports.

"If voters approve, the Legislature could allow counties to decide which classes of non-real estate property to exempt," AP explains. "The tax break would not extend to public utilities. It would also apply only to new inventory and equipment added to the rolls."

That latter provision helped prompt the West Virginia Association of Counties to endorse the measure Wednesday, though with several caveats.

But they "and others remain concerned about the resulting loss of revenue, particularly because at least two-thirds of all property tax proceeds benefit public schools," the article said.

The state Manufacturers Association, meanwhile, "wants existing inventory and equipment exempt as well, President Karen Price told lawmakers."

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington also has coverage.

Election 2010: Congress

The Associated Press reviews candidate filings for West Virginia's three U.S. House seats and finds "a role reversal this campaign season: The lone Republican seems poised for an easy re-election, while the two Democrats are on the defensive."

Besides multiple would-be GOP challengers, both Democrats also face primary opponents. While Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd, has his first contested primary since 2002, the other Democrat is a relative unknown. But Rep. Alan Mollohan, the 1st District's automatic nominee since 1998, is up against state Sen. Mike Oliverio of Monongalia County.

“I can help the Democratic Party hold this seat in a year when there will be tremendous pressure on incumbents,” Oliverio told AP.

Depending on how May shakes out, the November ballot could also feature high-profile GOP nominees. For Rahall, it could be Democrat-turned-Republican and former state Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard.

But Maynard fared as poorly in Rahall's district as he did in his failed 2008 court re-election bid. He placed third in each of its 17 counties except for his then-home of Mingo, the article said.

Oliverio, meanwhile, has previously run twice for secretary and state but lost. "Although he placed third statewide the second time around, he led in the 20 counties that make up Mollohan’s district," the article noted.

03 February 2010

Legislature 2010: Education

Legislation targeting the state's dropout rate would require West Virginians to stay in school until they're 18, up from the current attendance age of 16, Public Broadcasting reports.

"This bill and others are based on findings by a legislative interim committee," the item said. "Only one in four West Virginians graduates high school, and dropouts are more likely to be incarcerated than high school graduates."

Audio here. The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington also reports on efforts to increase the attendance age.

Public Broadcasting has a separate item as well on a House bill that addresses both the attendance age and truancy. With audio.

Delegate Pleads Guilty to DUI

Delegate Alex Shook, D-Monongalia, has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI, resolving the charge resulting from last week's traffic stop and arrest, The Charleston Gazette reports.

"Magistrate Jack Pauley fined Shook $100," and he "must also pay court costs," the article said.

The newspaper also notes that "Shook later issued a statement apologizing for his actions, calling it a 'terrible mistake' and adding that he was 'deeply sorry.' He is not running for re-election this year."

Toll Roads in West Virginia

The state agency that now runs the West Virginia Turnpike could add toll booths to other roads around the state to help fund them, under a proposal from Gov. Joe Manchin.

As The Associated Press reports, only a handful of highway projects appear likely candidates for such a move. They include "include the uncompleted upgrades to U.S. Route 35, which enters Mason County from Ohio and ends just west of Charleston, and the Mon-Fayette Expressway planned for north-central West Virginia," the article said.

AP also observes that "while the bill would expand the agency's reach beyond the 88-mile turnpike...it also would extend Manchin's ongoing drive to refocus it solely on roads"

The bill "would remove further development and tourism projects from the agency's scope and change its name accordingly, to the state Parkways Authority," the article said.

The Charleston Gazette also previewed the legislation, as did The Register-Herald of Beckley.

Manchin Heads to the White House

Months after calling for a sit-down with President Obama to discuss coal and climate change, Gov. Joe Manchin has landed an invitation to the White House.

The Associated Press reports that Obama "is meeting with governors from coal-producing states, hoping to earn their support for a languishing energy bill and to bolster his image as a leader willing to work with Republicans as well as Democrats."

Vice President Joe Biden is also expected to take part. The Charleston Daily Mail focuses on Manchin's plans to attend.

"I think there's a misconception that we don't recognize we need to do our part for the environment," the governor told the newspaper, adding that "Just cutting out coal is not feasible... It's not going to happen."

Manchin heads to DC armed with a resolution endorsed by the state Senate and House that opposes federal cap and trade legislation.

Obama mentioned hearing from Manchin about coal during last week's Q-and-A with House Republicans in Baltimore.

02 February 2010

Dueling Quotes of the Day

"For anybody with the caliber of lawyers that business has and the chamber has to make such a broad assertion that is flat-out wrong, is just almost inexcusable."

-- Chief Justice Robin Davis, taking issue with allegations from the Chamber of Commerce (and others) regarding West Virginia's appeals process, as quoted by The Associated Press.

"Imagine if you were a major decision maker ... of a major corporation who had come to West Virginia to hear what the chief justice has to say. What reaction would you take away from that?"

-- Chamber President Steve Roberts, responding to Davis' comment in The Charleston Gazette.

Legislature 2010: Supreme Court

West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Davis updated lawmakers on the ongoing revision of the court's appeals rules, while also coming out "personally against adding a midlevel appeals court," The Associated Press and others report.

The court aims to make its rules more clear, largely to "help silence critics who argue that West Virginia lacks an automatic right to appeal," the article said.

"Our proposed revised rules will make it more transparent that an appeal of right exists in West Virginia," Davis explained to lawmakers. "(They) will show that each properly prepared appeal will result in a decision on the merits of the case."

With that stance, Davis then took issue with allegations to the contrary raises by some of the legislators:

Davis said all five justices on the court review each appeal filed. She agreed that not all these appeals get a hearing where lawyers argue the case, nor do all result in a written ruling. "But no appellate court in the country, either state or federal, permits an oral argument in every single case," Davis said.
As for an intermediate appeals court, Davis said it "would have an estimated $8 million annual price tag and would add time to the appeal process," AP reports. "Davis said special interests who prefer to drag out cases are pushing for a new court."

Others who covered the House chamber presentation include The Charleston Gazette, the Charleston Daily Mail and MetroNews (with audio).

Lawmakers, Team Manchin Spar over Health Care Cuts

With Gov. Joe Manchin seeking 5 percent cuts to much of next year's general revenue budget, legislators are questioning some of his resulting targets within the Department of Health and Human Resources, The Associated Press and others report.

"Some programs, like the CARDIAC Project, which aims to reduce heart disease and diabetes, would see budget cuts of 30 percent," writes AP's Tom Breen. "Others, like the West Virginia Center for End-of-Life Care, would close their doors altogether."

"We did make some very difficult decisions," DHHR Secretary Patsy Hardy told the House Finance Committee. "Please know, we recognize these are important programs."

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

Election 2010: The Unopposed

Nearly 440 West Virginians have become candidates for state-level and other offices handled by the secretary of state, including more than 30 whose mailed-in filings arrived after Saturday's midnight deadline.

But while the filings will continue to trickle in, The Associated Press finds that " the outcome has already been largely decided for more than a third of the legislative seats up this year."

AP explains that "14 House and two Senate candidates face no challengers in the May primary or November general election. Another 30 seats will stay with the party that now holds them, for a lack of general election opponents."

01 February 2010

Legislature 2010: Day 20

  • Public Broadcasting reports that Gov. Joe Manchin has proposed eliminating $250,000 from the Department of Health and Human Resources' $781 million budget that allows the West Virginia Center for End of Life Care to operate. A spokesperson said DHHR Secretary Patsy Hardy "would explain the elimination of the program to the House Finance Committee in a budget hearing Monday." With audio.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail reports on calls by lawmakers "to further monitor and reign in seemingly exorbitant state contracts and changes to state contracts." These legislators are "concerned that too many agencies have exemptions that allow them to bypass the state Purchasing Division," the article said.
  • A pending bill proposing a statewide smoking ban would not extend to "legislative offices at the Capitol," the Daily Mail reports, adding that "the state Capitol Complex remains exempt from Kanawha County's smoking ban because it is technically property of the state."
  • Delegate Alex Shook, D-Monongalia, has issued a statement to The Associated Press and others apologizing for his DUI arrest in Charleston last week. Shook, who had earlier decided not to seek re-election, called the incident a "a terrible mistake" and said "he will not let a 'single bad act' define him and will work to redeem himself.

Legislature 2010: Prisons

The Associated Press examines Gov. Joe Manchin's legislative session proposal "to create an accelerated parole program for the least risky inmates."

The governor's agenda also includes "boost the funding for work release programs in Charleston and Beckley," the article said.

It is such options that "politicians have long feared will expose them to the charge of being 'soft on crime,'' a tag no one wants during an election year in a conservative state," writes AP's Tom Breen. "Manchin, though, is willing to risk political backlash by proposing policies he says will save the state hundreds of millions in the long run and do a better job of rehabilitating prisoners with the best chance at being productive members of society."

Midyear Budget Cuts Still Planned for W.Va.

The Manchin adminstration is pressing ahead with plans to cut 3.4 percent from current general revenue spending for most of state government, The Associated Press reports.

Officials say "agencies and programs all responded to Manchin's call to trim their budgets by the Jan. 20 deadline," the article said. "The state Revenue Department continues to sort through the replies. But officials estimate they will cut enough to offset a projected $120 million shortfall in general tax collections."

The continuing effects of the recession had prompted Manchin's office to project the deficit threat and order the cuts in late December. It's sticking with its forecast, despite "some good news over the weekend," AP reports. "For the fourth month in a row, general revenues beat expectations."

"Officials had estimated the state would collect nearly $296 million in January, but Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow on Friday estimated the final amount will come in around $37 million higher," the article said. "But despite the consecutive months of robust revenues, Muchow still predicts collections will fall shy of the $3.7 billion target by the time the budget year ends June 30."

Election 2010: Candidate Field in Flux (Updated)

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant counted 394 candidates filing with her office by Saturday's midnight deadline.

As The Associated Press reports, slightly more than a dozen braved the weekend snow to add their names on the final day (county clerks received filings as well for offices on that part of the ballot).

But the deadline also applied to postmarked filings, which won't arrive at the Capitol until this week.

State Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia, told The Intelligencer of Wheeling (but not, at first glance, his hometown newspaper), "that he had mailed in his certificate of candidacy papers for congress," with plans to challenge 1st District U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan in their party's primary.

Oliverio has planned a multi-stop media tour to kick off his campaign, including an appearance on MetroNews' Talkline. (Update: Audio here, while AP has an item as well.)

That show also expects to hear from ex-Supreme Court Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard. Having recently defected to the Republican Party, MetroNews expects he'll announce a run against Rep. Nick Rahall, D-3rd. (Update: MetroNews has item plus audio. AP has coverage as well.)

The State Journal, meanwhile, reports that former Morgantown Mayor Ron Justice has mailed in papers to vie for the state Senate seat that Oliverio is vacating.