Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette Mail. February 21, 2024.

Editorial: Making auditor beholden to politicians a bad idea

A bill that would make West Virginia’s legislative auditor beholden to political leaders is one of the worst ideas the Legislature has come up with while under control of a GOP supermajority in both chambers.

Senate Bill 687 would make the critical position charged with auditing the state budget and government spending units, reporting misapplication of state funds — and making recommendations on their findings — subject to the direction of the House speaker and Senate president. The bill passed the Senate last week and is now parked in the House Government Organization Committee.

The bill also weakens the standards in place for audits. One of the bill’s proponents in the Senate said those higher standards could still be used, it just wouldn’t be required. That’s not reassuring.

This seems like an effort to further occlude the financial consequences of legislative actions from other government agencies and the public. Gazette-Mail columnist Phil Kabler noted the irony here, given that Republicans for years have run on government transparency and fiscal responsibility. The GOP has been in control of the Legislature since 2014 and, over that span, party leaders have almost entirely dispensed with the quaint notions that put them in control.

Indeed, the Senate under the leadership of President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, has on multiple occasions suspended normal legislative rules and practices to ram legislation through with almost no expert or public analysis or input. When the House and Senate passed a near-total abortion ban, it was done through a hastily called special session and with the Capitol’s galleries cleared of protesters and public spectators.

The policy was crafted with no testimony from obstetricians, despite more than a few offering to give their insight on the matter.

If they could do something that dystopian with their eyes and ears covered, it’s almost surprising legislative leaders haven’t thought to neuter the legislative auditor sooner.

But while the supermajority is on this mad bender of breaking norms, punishing constituents and removing accountability, they’re not stopping to think that a pendulum swings in more than one direction.

Right now, it’s inconceivable that the Democratic Party would have a majority in either chamber or control any statewide offices. That was the boat the Republican Party in West Virginia was in for decades.

Current lawmakers are showing no restraint, because they can’t imagine a day when they’re not calling the shots. And maybe that day won’t come for a long time, but it will come. It always does, no matter who is in charge. And all of these things the GOP has done to entrench power and remove accountability will be at the disposal of their opponents.

Responsible governance is important beyond its own sake. Making these types of changes doesn’t just affect this Legislature, but everyone going forward. It’s something GOP leaders might want to take a moment and ponder, but, right now, they’re too drunk on their own power and seeming invincibility.

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The Intelligencer. February 26, 2024.

Editorial: Preparing W.Va. for a New Future

While officials in other states jumped at the chance to use federal money to boost their electric vehicle charging offerings, West Virginia’s officials appear downright embarrassed to have to figure out how to spend the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act money.

According to a report by WV MetroNews, state Department of Highways Chief Economic Development Officer Perry Keller felt compelled to tell Mountain State residents the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure plan is mandatory and not something the DOH necessarily would have gone out and embraced on its own accord, but they are now going to make the most of the initiative.

What a shame.

West Virginia is supposed to get $46 million over the next five years to implement this plan in a way that serves both interstate travelers and local residents who have made the transition to EVs. State officials are talking as though they are being forced into something that is unpleasant at best.

Online memes about coal trains full of “electric vehicle fuel” notwithstanding, no one would argue that it is a win all around for West Virginia to have federal help meeting the needs of all drivers. Imagine the consequences if we were left to our own devices and some of the travelers and potential new residents our lawmakers pretend they want to attract are unable even to do something as simple as refuel their means of transportation.

“This is a priority within the Federal Highway Administration and we are prepared to put these things up for the traveling public, for their use, and we hope to do it as quickly as possible,” Keller eventually conceded.

One suspects the bit about working quickly might have more to do with West Virginia’s reputation as a slow and untrustworthy spender of federal dollars than any desire to get all these EV charging stations in place.

Drivers across the country are making the switch. Drivers here in West Virginia are making the switch. Bureaucrats and politicians must, as well.

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Parkersburg News and Sentinel. February 27, 2024.

Editorial: Jobs: West Virginia must diversify economy

West Virginia has experienced a couple of major hits on the jobs front lately — the most recent coming from Allegheny Wood Products, which said last week that it is closing its doors in a move that affects 850 workers.

According to a report by WOWK, the company’s owner said the closure was a result of market conditions and other factors.

All of a sudden, we’ve got approximately 900 workers losing their jobs at the Cleveland-Cliffs Weirton tinplate facility, and 850 (half direct employees, half contractors) losing jobs in AWP operations across the state. That’s a pretty big dark spot on the bright jobs future state officials have been touting.

But maybe those state officials haven’t quite had their fingers on the pulse of large employers as much as we would hope.

State and federal officials seemed shocked and betrayed by the Cleveland-Cliffs move. Now Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Economic Development Mitch Carmichael says the AWP decision was “very sudden,” according to WOWK.

Carmichael followed that by saying the state would work on whether it could help put the company back on “solid footing,” even suggesting the state might be able to find out whether another company could take over AWP operations.

At the same time, Carmichael said his office had been told to mobilize a rapid response team to help employees find jobs and apply for unemployment benefits.

Both metals and forest products are listed as “thriving industries” on the West Virginia Economic Development website. It sounds as though both are due for a checkup with state officials. And in the meantime, Carmichael and crew had better double their efforts on the diversification and expansion of our economy as some of our generational pillars are showing their wear and tear.

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