Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Nov. 15, 2021.

Editorial: Rules are different for the uber wealthy

It’s no great revelation that there is a dichotomy in this country between how middle- and lower-income Americans are treated compared to the rich.

If an individual or family with a modest income misses a car payment, a house payment or even a medical payment, the response is swift and severe. They’re threatened with everything from legal action to the loss of that house or car if they don’t make good immediately. Extenuating circumstances rarely make a difference.

And why should anyone expect anything else? If you sign a mortgage, you’re agreeing you’re good for that money and acknowledge that, if you’re not, the conditions change.

Yet, it isn’t it that way for the wealthy.

Last week, a report appeared in the Gazette-Mail detailing a $2.9 million ruling in a Kentucky court against West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and family after seven of their numerous companies failed to live up to an agreement to have a mine site cleaned up. And it’s not like time wasn’t given. The cleanup was part of an agreement reached back in 2015, after violations at the site, and was to be completed by 2019. The court shouldn’t expect that $2.9 million anytime soon.

The Gazette-Mail and other publications have documented what seem like endless reports of Justice, his children and their companies failing to abide by court decisions, defaulting on massive loans, letting health benefits or other coverage for employees lapse and settling cases for money owed after years of haggling in court. And still there’s always another negotiation. Another hearing. Another chance to delay and string things along. Forbes magazine dubbed Justice “the deadbeat billionaire,” but he’s hardly the only ultra-wealthy person in the United States to operate this way. The rules are just different when you’ve got clout and money — especially the latter.

In fact, the system enables this sort of thing, whether it be in relation to a business or personal finances. The Gazette-Mail reported that Justice, the wealthiest man in West Virginia, owed $15 million in taxes when he took office in 2017. A recent report from ProPublica found that the governor paid hardly anything — and most of the time, nothing at all — in income taxes between 2000 and 2018. And everything he did to avoid paying those taxes was perfectly legal. Most folks look at that and see Justice taking advantage of the system, but why wouldn’t he?

In the meantime, the country and this state punish those without resources or who receive government assistance. Drug-testing and work requirements for things such as food stamps are enacted by state legislatures like West Virginia’s to try and detect those the wealthy see as cheating the system (even though the administrative costs of doing so outweigh the benefits of catching these supposed scammers).

As governor, Justice, the master of the last-minute, one-more-chance play in his own affairs, ended augmented unemployment benefits that were part of federal COVID-19 relief three months early. How’s that for an upside-down universe?

Should the uber rich “pay their share?” Should the system treat them like everyone else? Yes. But the system has to change for that to happen, and that involves a series of reforms that don’t look like they’re coming to fruition anytime soon.

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The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Nov. 13, 2021.

Editorial: Giving moms and their kids opportunities

Now that President Biden’s infrastructure bill has passed through contentious negotiations to a narrow but successful vote in the House, some $6 billion will be heading to West Virginia to address long-neglected roads and bridges, sewer systems and water pipes, and access to the digital world via fast and reliable broadband hookups.

With momentum on their side, and with fresh legs after a recess, this is no time for our congressional leaders to cower from the challenges immediately ahead. This is no time to be intimidated. No time for the weak-kneed. We speak of a $1.85 trillion bill that confronts a frayed social safety net and climate change that is spinning out of our collective ability to evade a cataclysmic reckoning. Yes, that is a hefty price tag, but cheap when compared to the consequences of doing nothing – for our planet, for American families losing touch with the American Dream, and for children who should be on equal footing right out of the gate to chase their dreams.

No, none of the faults and fissures in our infrastructure will be fixed overnight, and no, not all of our underground leaks and roadway bumps will be plugged and patched on the day after the last penny is spent.

But just the certainty that there will be dollars banked to pay for vastly improved services and roadways that have for too long been pushed aside for other priorities? Well, that is simply exciting. And comforting. This important and necessary piece of legislation puts important puzzle pieces in place that allow us to see possibilities and potential of long-held dreams taking shape – right here in the southern reaches of the state.

The next step, of course, is near its final form, and without getting too far into the weeds to debate each point ad nauseam, we will point to just one simple policy prescription with a simple mission that we think typifies much of the good that is intended in the larger.

Costing $390 billion, a child care proposal would provide all 3- and 4-year-old children with universal access to preschool, representing the largest expansion of free education since high school was added a century ago. It would also subsidize the cost of child care for the vast majority of parents with a child under 6.

The current network that favors the wealthy would be transformed from a private, disparate network into a taxpayer-funded system that would ease the financial crunch for millions of working mothers and low-income families. This represents generational change that will resonate with voters and help American families. More importantly, it better reflects our collective values – that we want the best education possible for all of our children.

Through this large-scale public investment – paid for by taxes on the rich, many of whom are not paying a penny now – all parents will be able to send their children into an educational setting while they re-enter the workforce.

Likewise, provider pay would be more in keeping with the value they provide society than the poverty wages they currently receive.

There is no real secret to this program, no hidden details. But if you want to know why American kids are falling behind their classmates, start here: As of 2019, only about half of American 3- and 4-year-olds were enrolled in preschool, according to federal statistics.

This is a change that is long overdue. We live in a society where many women can’t be at work because their hands are tied at home. And yet we have employers who are looking for qualified workers.

Let’s connect the dots and eliminate barriers that keep moms from contributing all that they have to give.

The cherry on top, of course, is that our children, all of them, have equal opportunity to learn and to grow – right from the get-go.

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Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Nov. 10, 2021.

Editorial: Short-lived secession: Justice was premature in touting Maryland counties move

Three Maryland counties made headlines last month after their leaders announced that they were hoping to become a part of the Mountain State. It was a short-lived secession, however, with Maryland officials calling the move a dead issue a week later.

The three counties, although rural and mountainous, have a combined population of more than 251,000 citizens. They include the cities of Cumberland and Hagerstown, both of which would have been among the top 10 most-populated cities in West Virginia had they somehow found a way to become a part of the Mountain State.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice was quick to embrace the idea of adding the Maryland counties to the Mountain State, which gave sudden, albeit brief, credibility to the seemingly impossible move.

The Republican governor even went so far as to hold a virtual press conference to discuss the Maryland secession plans. He even proposed calling a special session of the West Virginia Legislature to consider the request of the three Maryland counties. Justice was joined by West Virginia Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay and Delegate Gary Howell, R-Mineral, in touting the benefits of adding the three Maryland counties to the Mountain State.

“We’ve got it going on right now in West Virginia,” Justice said of the Maryland situation. “We are knocking it out of the park. Why wouldn’t you want to come? We want everyone to know that we are standing here with open arms. We welcome these counties and would be tickled to death to have them and the great folks of that incredible state.”

Of course, taking in three counties from another state isn’t as easy as Justice makes it sound. The process would have been long and difficult with an outcome that wasn’t guaranteed.

About a week later, media reports from Maryland indicated the secession plan was all but dead. Delegates Wendell Beitzel, Mike McKay and William Wivell told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail the process of moving the three counties from Maryland to West Virginia was no longer viable.

It should be noted that this isn’t the first time during Justice’s tenure that counties in a neighboring state have sought to move to West Virginia. In early 2020, several Virginia localities, including Tazewell County, wanted to join West Virginia. The so-called “Vaexit” move was gaining steam before the pandemic hit, sidelining those efforts which are now presumed dead, particularly with the Republican sweep of the Commonwealth last week.

While Justice may have been premature in all of his talk about adding the three Maryland counties to West Virginia, you can’t really blame him for trying.

Adding those three counties, and the more than 251,000 citizens who populate them, would have been a significant win for West Virginia.

We certainly don’t begrudge or discourage the citizens of those three Maryland counties from seeking refuge in the Mountain State, if that is their desire.

However, we simply remind everyone involved that trying to secede from one state to another is a long, technical and difficult process.

It’s not something that can happen overnight.

END