Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 14

The Intelligencer on a remote worker program looking to bring new residents to the state:

West Virginians are sometimes numb to the wonders that surround us in this incredible state. When we seek adventure, we don’t often turn to our own backyards — we go to beaches or explore other regions.

But people from across the country understand the beauty and adventure that awaits in West Virginia; and state Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby wants to take advantage of that love for our state’s wild and wonderful side.

Beginning this week, a remote worker program will work to recruit out-of-state participants who can do their jobs from anywhere. If they move to the Mountain State, they will receive $12,000 and passes for a year to go whitewater rafting, golfing, rock climbing, horseback riding, skiing, ziplining … jut about any outdoor activity they can think of.

“We want to give folks the opportunity to escape big cities,” Ruby said. “In West Virginia, there are no crowded places, long commutes or traffic jams. There’s just plenty of places to put down roots and explore the great outdoors.”

Of course, our connectivity is less than stellar, but there are three work-from-home hubs set up for the program, which is now accepting applicants for the first 50 openings in Morgantown. The other hubs are Shepherdstown and Lewisburg.

If you know someone who has just been waiting for such an opportunity, give them a call.

West Virginia has fewer residents now than it did 70 years ago. We are bleeding people.

If Ruby and her team can convince families to move to West Virginia, rather than just going on a weekend adventure, fantastic.

It is a good idea, if lawmakers who claimed they wanted to attract or retain 400,000 residents for the Mountain State can, in turn, avoid wasting it.

Online: https://www.theintelligencer.net/

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April 13

The Herald Dispatch on public access at the Capitol and the state personal income tax bill :

Several phrases came to mind Friday when the photo was released showing a defiant Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, arms folded and eyes fixed on the vote tally board in the House chamber. The board was all red, showing the names of the 100 House members who had unanimously voted down a bill backed by Gov. Jim Justice and the state Senate to reduce the state personal income tax and replace part of that revenue with increases in other taxes.

100-0. That’s about as strong a rebuke as the House can send to a sitting governor short of an impeachment vote.

If Justice hadn’t taken it upon himself to insult House members a few hours earlier by goading them into a vote, the result might have turned out differently. The House might still have rejected it, but maybe not by 100-0. Justice said delegates were afraid to vote on the bill. So when the governor dared the House members to vote, they did — and they let him know what they thought of his tactics.

Monday, the governor had not forgotten the rebuke.

“It turned into a grandstanding circus, did it not?” he said in reference to the income tax debate. “We had real wisdom in the Senate and not a lot of wisdom in the House, to tell the truth.”

Maybe Justice thought his margin of victory in the general election five months ago gave him a mandate to come up with any plan that suited his fancy. Surely the Republican supermajority in the Legislature would go along with it. But that’s not how things work. Governors who win in a landslide don’t have free rein.

With his comments Monday, it appears the governor is not in any mood for reconciliation or compromise.

The governor and the state Senate leadership could have avoided this embarrassment if they had let people into the Capitol during the session. They would have heard directly from the public that many people would rather pay a lower sales tax along with an income tax than see an income reduction paired with an increase in the sales tax.

Under the ruse of COVID-19 precautions, the governor and legislators isolated and insulated themselves from public scrutiny. People lost direct contact with their elected representatives. State officials who let children back in school and social gadflys back in bars were too essential to risk contact with the rest of us.

To further show the governor just doesn’t understand the need for public access, his news conference on Monday to talk about COVID-19 and other matters was another one conducted virtually, where he allowed no one in the room and allowed no followup questions.

When asked Monday about when the Capitol would be open to the public again, Justice denied that it was closed. It’s open for official business, but not for tour groups, he said. He won’t accept that some individuals want to interact with state officials directly.

Moving forward, Justice said last week he will take his case for his income tax plan directly to voters. That assumes he plans to visit several parts of the state and talk to real people — not politicians and lobbyists who seek his favor — about how his plan is better for them than the status quo. If he has specially picked audiences to applaud his every sentence, then the road show will be a sham. He needs to hear from people who would be asked to pay more in sales taxes so higher- income people would get a break.

To sum it all up, there is little or no public support for the governor’s plan. If he wants to advance it, he will need to give up his hard-charging ways, seek consensus and, most important of all, public input. Insults and obstinance won’t work.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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April 10

The Register Herald on a new bill that would regulate needle exchange programs:

Our governor and West Virginia’s supermajority Republican legislators, from backbenchers to those wearing the mantle of leadership, ignored too many of the state’s myriad problems to debate, instead, ideological and cultural hot button issues that they believed, we can only imagine, would play well with their base.

While we would not be so cocksure as they of that self-serving notion, we certainly see the legislative ruins in the wake of poor planning, a lack of discipline and little to no evidence that enough legislators practiced due diligence to arrive at relevant and effective legislation.

Theirs was, at best, a dishonest effort with a singular focus on pure party dogma. Citizens need to hold them responsible for ignoring what is not plumb in our world for much is out of kilter.

By way of example, and there are many, the legislators sent the governor a law that will, effectively, shutter all needle exchange programs across the state – this instead of addressing the weakness of a public health infrastructure exposed by a devastating pandemic.

Never mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 88,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in August – the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a year.

Never mind that West Virginia typically leads all states in both drug overdose and death rates.

Never mind that an HIV outbreak has reared its head in Kanawha County where cases linked to injection drug use increased from two in 2018 to at least 35 in 2020.

Never mind that needle exchange programs have proven to curtail the number of HIV and hepatitis C infections and deaths.

Never mind that the West Virginia Center on Budget Policy issued a report that said “the total economic damage caused by the drug crisis in West Virginia amounted to about $11.3 billion; in Kanawha County, the total reached $1.7 billion.”

Never mind that the report went on to state that to treat the 35 new HIV cases reportedly related to intravenous drug use in 2020 will cost nearly $17 million.

Too many legislators believe what they hear in their inner circles, selective chat rooms protected from hard truths known by critical thinking.

They refuse, apparently, to study the science and research. They don’t even take the advice of the state’s own health director who, in testimony, advised the legislators not to pull the rug out from under the needle exchanges.

Their path, of course, is no way to develop public policy let alone write law.

But here we are, at the end of the session, and that legislation has wound its way through both the Senate and the House and sits on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

He, of course, should veto the bill. But we have no confidence that the governor will do the right thing.

So, we will remind the governor of what he said during his state of the state address to kick off this session. He said his job, “first and foremost, it’s to look out after the health and safety of the people.”

So do that, Gov. Justice. Stay true to your own words, to your mission. Protect us from our lawmakers and veto this bill.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/