Editorial Roundup: West Virginia

Charleston Gazette-Mail. Oct. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Are Manchin’s latest concerns more about money?

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is holding up the Biden administration’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation plan, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

Manchin says he doesn’t want to raise the corporate tax rate, but he voted against Donald Trump’s 2017 cuts that dropped the rate from 35% to 22% and ballooned the national deficit — another thing Manchin says he’s concerned about.

West Virginia’s senior senator also opposes much of the energy policy in the budget, because it would focus heavily on renewables and likely deliver the finishing blow to coal as a fuel for generating electricity.

This, Manchin will not have. But why? West Virginians could soon bear the brunt of massive hikes in their electricity bills, as power companies seek to raise rates to keep their coal-fired plants, which are no longer economically competitive, open past 2028. There’s still a market for coal used in manufacturing but, as a fuel for power plants, it’s been on the way out for a long time.

Part of that is government regulation, as it pertains to climate change, but it’s been noted time and again that the thing that killed coal was capitalism. Natural gas was cheaper and cost less to extract. Renewables, like solar and wind, once decried as too expensive or impractical to provide significant energy production, have evolved to the point where they’re deployable and economically competitive.

Manchin wants a slow transition. That’s fair, to a degree. No one wants to see miners or power plant workers lose their jobs, which is why the administration and West Virginia Legislature are investing so much in making sure coal communities don’t get left behind when that inevitable transition happens.

While a shift in energy policy isn’t popular with Manchin’s constituents, everyone can see the writing on the wall. It would make sense for West Virginia, which has clung to one industry for far too long, to get out in front of this while it still can.

What’s more, it’s estimated that President Joe Biden’s clean energy goals would add 3,508 full-time jobs in West Virginia, increase total earnings for state residents by $172 million through 2040 and bring $20.9 billion of investment in new power plants. Projections also show it would make West Virginia a healthier place to live. And these findings aren’t from some liberal think tank, but an analysis conducted by West Virginia University researchers and economic modeling experts.

More and more, it’s looking like Manchin’s real problem with the plan is that it would hurt his wallet.

As Gazette-Mail reporter Mike Tony noted in a recent article, Manchin’s income from stock he owns in Fairmont-based Enersystems Inc., the coal brokerage he founded in 1988, has totaled $4.35 million over the past nine years. Last year, his stock in the company was valued at anywhere from $1 million to $5 million. That’s at least 1 million reasons to ask, “What’s the rush?” when it comes to transitioning the country’s energy infrastructure.

Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted in a piece Monday that this isn’t a case of infighting among progressive and moderate Democrats. Rather, it’s every Democrat in Congress against Manchin and Sinema. While noting Manchin’s opposition to a corporate tax increase, Rubin pointed out that Sinema opposes the portion of the bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices — a bipartisan policy with broad appeal. Rubin points to Sinema’s ties to Big Pharma as a possible reason for opposing such a thing.

With all of this in mind, the obvious question becomes whether this is really about the concerns of constituents, or protecting personal wealth.

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The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.

Editorial: New WV transportation secretary has a big job ahead of him

Jimmy Wriston is the new secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation and commissioner of the state Division of Highways. Gov. Jim Justice appointed him to the position last week following the retirement of former Secretary Byrd White.

West Virginia’s secretary of transportation has one of the most important jobs among those appointed by the governor. Along with public safety and education, the Department of Transportation affects every person who lives in West Virginia daily, and it leaves an impression on out-of-state residents who work, shop or visit here.

It must be one of the more frustrating jobs in state government, as the secretary must work within limits set by the governor and the Legislature to meet the demands of the public as best he can given the limited resources the department has to work with. It’s a basic conflict of economics: unlimited wants vs limited resources.

West Virginia’s road system suffers from decades of deferred maintenance. Every governor promises things will change, but change seldom occurs. One question has been how the department allocates money among the interstate highway system, primary roads and secondary roads. Pavement deteriorates over time, and with so many roads built on the sides of hills and mountains, slips are a common problem.

The easy answer is more money, but from where? Much of the money for maintenance that’s raised in-state comes from fuel taxes. Fuel prices are volatile. The price of gasoline has gone up significantly in the past few months. It’s not as high as it was in 2011, when the price hit $4.259 a gallon in this area, but it’s still higher than it was a year or two ago.

Money from the federal government helps build bridges and repair main roads, but the farther a person drives from the more heavily populated areas, the less likely a road will be smooth and safe.

In a statement announcing Wriston’s appointment, Justice said, “Jimmy has been a driving force behind our efforts to transform the DOT into an agency that prioritizes road maintenance and always goes above and beyond to get the job done.”

May that be the case in the next few years. Complaining about the state of their roads is an enduring trait of West Virginians, and for good reason. Changing that will be a long process — one that lasts far behind the term of one secretary of transportation.

Here’s to hoping Wriston can be that kind of secretary. People of this state could use some progress in seeing improvements in their hard infrastructure: roads, water, sewer, internet and more. Everyone knows we’ve suffered from inadequate roads for long enough.

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The (Beckley) Register-Herald. Oct. 9, 2021.

Editorial: Sen. Manchin should work for constituents

In true populist form, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said on numerous occasions that he will not vote for legislation that he cannot explain to his constituents. Such has been his approach to President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act that our senior senator wants to trim by a couple of trillion dollars.

But Manchin has been hard to pin down on specifics of what he wants to see in the final bill, which is convenient. We understand that it is easier politically to be against spending large sums of money than to be for progressive policy prescriptions, especially representing a conservative state. But now, in a recent story in Axios, our senior senator has said that Democrats must pick one of three major policies in the bill – the expanded child tax credit, paid family medical leave or subsidies for child care – and kill the other two.

That is no way to put your fingerprints on a transformative moment in United States legislative history where Congress has the opportunity to lift millions of families out of poverty and have them contribute significantly to a resurgent economy. Nor, it seems, is the senator paying enough attention to what such a bill could do for those constituents of his back home.

If we have learned nothing else from being trapped in a pandemic these past couple of years, it is this: Government programs can and do help prevent poverty and can help ameliorate economic hardship on businesses. U.S. Census Bureau data show that historic levels of federal aid – including the expanded child tax credit (CTC) and earned income tax credit (EITC) – have worked to reduce poverty for millions during a time of significant economic uncertainty.

Back home, according to the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, the CTC reached 346,000, or 93 percent, of all children under 18, including 170,000 who were previously left out of the full value of the credit. This, alone, if extended, would lift 22,000 West Virginia children above the poverty line.

We, as a country, should be embarrassed that with our collective wealth, the United States has a higher child poverty rate than most developed nations. And in West Virginia, the situation is even more acute with about 1 in 5 children living below the poverty line. Of the country’s 50 states, West Virginia’s median household annual income sits next to last – $16,862 below the national average.

The EITC and CTC are proven financial lifelines for low-income individuals and families.

The Biden bill increases the basic amount of the CTC from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and provides an additional $600 for children under age 6, with those amounts paring down above incomes of $112,500 for single parents and $150,000 for couples.

Most helpful, the bill directs the IRS to make payments of the CTC in monthly installments so that struggling families do not have to wait until next year’s tax filing season to benefit. They get the money immediately – and put it to work just as fast.

According to Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, the CTC expansions alone would reduce child poverty in the United States by 45 percent.

The Biden bill would also make permanent the EITC expansion, which is fashioned for adults who work in low-wage jobs and do not have children. The bill increases the maximum tax credit from $540 to $1,500, extending the income cap for eligibility, and includes younger workers and seniors, too. Doing so would benefit 102,900 West Virginia workers, according to the WV Center for Budget and Policy.

We are not sure why Manchin would elect to sideline paid time off for families to care for a new child, care for a seriously ill family member or deal with a serious illness. Among low-wage workers, who represent a significant piece of the West Virginia workforce, fewer than one in 20 have access to family medical leave. Research shows that such policies result in higher worker productivity and morale and lower employee turnover.

The Biden plan gives workers up to 12 weeks of paid leave. Currently, West Virginia does not require employers to provide this benefit.

Child care provisions in the Biden bill would be a no-cost proposition for West Virginians earning under 75 percent of the state median income – or $36,639 annually. For any West Virginia family with an income of approximately $66,000, the plan would cut child care costs by an estimated $103 per week.

Given that Congress has numerous ways to raise substantial revenue from the wealthy and corporations, there is no reason for Mansion to have the Democrats pick and choose which policy to advance and which to leave behind. If the measures work in concert to provide significant benefit to our country as a whole, then we should move forward with the entire plan in place and stop placing arbitrary holds on programs just because it all seems too expensive.

It is not.

The potential impacts of what is being proposed are breathtaking – greatly reducing poverty for working individuals and families and preventing millions of others from being pushed below the poverty line in the first place.

Now is not the time for Sen. Manchin to be coy and cagey with what he will allow to move forward and what he will stop. But rather, we would suggest our senator get into the game and see what he can do – for his constituents back home.

That should be easy to explain.

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