Tomblin signs FY 2016 budget

March 24, 2015 by joelebert

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed the FY 2016 budget. Here’s a release from his office.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has signed House Bill 2016, the budget bill for Fiscal Year 2016, with targeted cuts. In January, Gov. Tomblin presented the Legislature with a responsible, balanced budget that took into account the tough budget year.

“As a longtime legislator and former Finance Committee chairman, I respect the hard work legislators put into the budget and the difficult choices they face when choosing how to allocate state dollars to best serve all West Virginians,” Gov. Tomblin said. “West Virginia has a reputation of being one of the most fiscally responsible states in the country. We’ve worked hard to earn that distinction, and I remain committed to finding ways to reduce government expenditures and minimize use of the Rainy Day Fund.”

Gov. Tomblin adjusted 46 line items representing a total of nearly $11 million from the FY 2016 budget, which includes a $14.8 million withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.

“Our six-year projections show we will again have surpluses in the coming years,” Gov. Tomblin said. “That additional revenue, which will become available as we pay off long-term liabilities such as the old workers’ compensation fund debt, can be used to provide extra funding in several critical areas. But those funding increases cannot occur if we increase the baseline budget in 2016. I am committed to maintaining fiscally responsible policies now and into the future.”

The total general revenue budget for FY 2016 is $4.296 billion.

To read the budget letter in its entirety, click here.

 

Roll Call 50 State Project

March 19, 2015 by joelebert

CQ Roll Call  – which is known as the “Newspaper of Capitol Hill since 1955″ – has published this year’s version of “The 50 State Project.” The publication presents the top five issues facing each state Legislature in 2015.

Although the report is being released just after West Virginia’s 2015 Legislature ended, here is what Hoppy Kercheval (of MetroNews) and I submitted to Roll Call for the project:

1. JOBS: State Faces Multiple Economic Challenges
West Virginia’s economy has seen steady but slow growth. Pockets of the state are doing well, but coal mining—particularly in southern West Virginia—is off significantly, with competition from cheaper natural gas and tighter EPA regulations putting the squeeze on coal. Whether there is more the state can do to promote economic diversification remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department reported recently that West Virginia’s labor participation rate is just 49.8 percent, well below the national average of 62.7 percent. Dr. John Deskins, head of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says, “This is one of the most serious economic challenges we face. If we don’t have enough healthy and properly educated and trained workers, then we’re unattractive from an economic development perspective.” -HK

2. TRANSPORTATION: How to Pay for Ailing Roads?
West Virginia has 36,000 miles of state-maintained roads, and many of them are crumbling. A report by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways determined it would take another $1 billion a year for the next 20 to 25 years to fix existing roads and build new ones that are needed. Neither the Governor nor lawmakers have found a way to meet the significant needs. -HK

3. ABORTION: Another Push to Limit Abortions
Last year, the legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The legislation was halted by a veto from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who said the bill was unconstitutional. A similar bill was introduced this year and handily passed both chambers, which are now controlled by Republicans. The governor vetoed the bill this year, but the legislature overrode his action. The bill will become law and is expected to face a court challenge. -JE

4. LABOR: Unions, Contractors Worried About Changes Proposed by GOP
Several labor topics have been discussed throughout the legislative session, ranging from repealing the state’s prevailing wage laws to making West Virginia a right-to-work state. Although the window has passed to advance right-to-work legislation, a compromise was negotiated over the prevailing wage law. Several other bills have been advanced by Republicans that have caused great consternation among labor unions and contractors. -JE

5. EDUCATION: GOP Aims to Repeal Common Core, Build Charter Schools
There have been several challenges to the state’s education system, which has been described as broken and bloated. Many Republicans are hoping to create a charter school system while others are also seeking to repeal the state’s Common Core standards. West Virginia is also struggling to attract new teachers. Low-paid teachers often leave border communities for higher pay in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio. But with a tightening budget, no new money is being allocated to increase teacher salaries. -JE/HK

You can find West Virginia on page 73.

Former Daily Mail Capitol reporter Dave Boucher, who now serves at state government and politics reporter at the Tennessean, also provided coverage for the report. Be sure to check him out page 65.

The publication features more than 70 reporters representing newspapers, television, radio, blogs, universities, watchdog groups and news services from more than 60 publications.

You can download the entire report by clicking here.

Follow along: Final Day of WV Legislative session

March 14, 2015 by Brad McElhinny

The first 59 days of this legislative session in West Virginia have brought plenty of drama. What will the 59th bring? Follow along here with Charleston Daily Mail political writers Whitney Burdette and Joel Ebert:

Live Blog Final Day of WV Legislative session
 

Gun bill already generates mailers

March 13, 2015 by joelebert

A New York-based political action committee – funded and founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg – has begun sending mailers to West Virginia residents, attacking lawmakers for supporting a conceal carry bill.

It may be the first but certainly won’t be the last mailer sent out over Senate Bill 347.

Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, was kind enough to share the documents, which he received this week from Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.

The group is the political arm of an organization that seeks to advocate for federal, state and local laws in hopes of preventing gun violence. The organization, which was founded in 2014, claims to have 2.5 million members.

According to the group’s year end Federal Election Commission filing, Everytown for Gun Safety Action spent $322,329 in independent expenditures between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2014.

The ads aren’t just attacking Walters – they’re going after Sen. Art Kirkendoll, who also voted in support of the bill.  Sens. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, and Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, were the only two Senators who did not vote in favor of SB 347. In all likelihood, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund won’t go after them – but who knows, these PACs have a way of not caring about reality.

Walters is confident the ads will have no effect on the view his constituents will have of him.

Although Everytown for Gun Safety has sent out the first mailer, others are sure to join in, especially after several House of Delegates Republicans broke from the majority of their party when the bill was vote on yesterday.

Gun rights organizations, such as the National Association for Gun Rights – which sent people to literally video record the proceedings in the Senate Judiciary Committee – and the Citizens Defense League will likely get in on the snail mail action.

NAGR, which is a Colorado-based company, has sent mailers attacking legislative candidates throughout the country, including South Dakota, where I previously covered elections. The group dropped thousands of dollars into the pockets of candidates challenging those who refused to fill out a survey sent by NAGR, asking lawmakers to promise to defend gun rights, despite the fact that the same lawmakers received A-ratings from the NRA. If you’re curious about the group and the role they played in a few South Dakota races you can read more here.

The gun rights groups will likely target anyone who voted against SB 347. Their hit list could include Sens. Miller and Palumbo, as well as the 13 Republicans and 16 Democrats in the House who voted against it.

Those Republicans are: Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, and Delegates George Ambler, R-Greenbrier; Bob Ashely, R-Roane; Roy Cooper, R-Summers; John Ellington, R-Mercer; David Evans, R-Marshall, Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, John McCuskey, R-Kanawha, Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, John Shott, R-Mercer, Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Steve Westfall, R-Jackson.

Those Democrats are: Mike Caputo, D-Marion; Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia; Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Dana Lynch, D-Webster; Tim Manchin, D-Marion; Tim Miley, D-Harrison; Clif Moore, D-McDowell; Jim Morgan, D-Cabell; Don Perdue, D-Wayne; Linda Goode Phillips, D-Wyoming; Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha; Doug Reynolds, D-Wayne; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson; Patsy Trecost, D-Harrison.

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GOP leaders order economic impact study of Right to Work bills

March 11, 2015 by joelebert

Just received the following message from Miranda Kessel and Jacque Bland, communications officials for Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead:

Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) and House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) have submitted a request under the economic impact statement rule enacted in January.  A request to examine the economic impact that proposed right-to-work legislation would have in West Virginia was submitted to the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research on March 6.

Speaker Tim Armstead stated, “I am pleased that we have taken the initial first step to examine the economic impact that enacting right-to-work legislation would have on our economy and on job retention and creation in West Virginia. We want to have as much information as possible in the hands of the legislators before we act on this legislation.”

In the submitted request, Speaker Armstead asked to conduct an economic impact study of H.B. 2643, a bill to establish the West Virginia Right to Work Law, while Senate President Bill Cole (R-Mercer) requested a study of S.B. 337, the Workplace Freedom Act.

“These studies will be another valuable piece of the puzzle as we assess these pieces of legislation,” Senate President Cole said.

On the opening day of the Legislative Session, the State Senate adopted Senate Rule 15b and the House adopted House Rule 95c, which both allow for an economic impact study of proposed legislation.  Since 1994, similar attempts to pass measures on economic impact have failed to be adopted by the House of Delegates.

The results of the study are expected to be available later this year.

Senate, House leaders request economic impact study

March 11, 2015 by Whitney Burdette

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, have requested an economic impact study on proposed right-to-work legislation.

This is the first economic impact study request under a rule enacted at the start of the legislative session. The request was submitted March 6 to WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The request asked for a study on House Bill 2643, establishing the West Virginia Right to Work Law, and Senate Bill 337, the Workplace Freedom Act.

“I am pleased that we have taken the initial first step to examine the economic impact that enacting right-to-work legislation would have on our economy and on job retention and creation in West Virginia,” Armstead said in a statement. “We want to have as much information as possible in the hands of the legislators before we act on this legislation.”

“These studies will be another valuable piece of the puzzle as we assess these pieces of legislation,” Cole said.

On the opening day of the 2015 regular session, the Senate adopted Senate Rule 15b and the House adopted House Rule 95c, which both allow for an economic impact study of proposed legislation.  Since 1994, similar attempts to pass measures on economic impact have failed to be adopted by the House of Delegates.

The results of the study are expected to be available later this year.

 

House Judiciary hears Tesla bill

March 10, 2015 by Whitney Burdette

Members of the House Judiciary Committee got their first look at legislation opponents say would bar a vehicle manufacturer from doing business in West Virginia.

Senate Bill 453 seeks to update state code pertaining to the relationship between auto manufacturers and dealerships. Supporters of the bill say it does nothing more than promote continued competition among auto dealers, but California-based auto manufacturer Tesla Motors says it would be barred from doing business in West Virginia.

“We currently sell directlu to consumers through our own stores, essentially dealerships,” Tesla official Will Nicholas told the committee Tuesday. “We operate in 35 states with the majority of states having laws prohibiting us from doing so.”

Tesla works like this: electric vehicles are manufactured and assembled in the United States, with only the construction of  battery components outsourced overseas. Consumers who want to purchase a vehicle can either visit one of its service centers or the company’s website. Consumers pay a $2,500 deposit, then the vehicle is assembled in California and is shipped either to the customer’s home or a nearby service center.

Nicholas said the manufacturer chooses to work directly with customers for a number of reasons.

“Currently we produce a much lower number of units than other manufacturers,” he said. “Last year we produced 33,000 units. We hope to produce 50,000 this year…with half going to American consumers. That’s as many cars as General Motors makes in one week. We believe it would be inefficient to sell through a dealer. We wouldn’t have enough units for a dealer to offer an exclusive Tesla product.”

Economically, selling units through a dealership doesn’t work for Tesla, which sells all-electric vehicles consisting of fewer parts than traditional gas-powered cars.

“It wouldn’t be economically viable for us and the dealers,” Nicholas said “Most of the revenue dealers make is based on service and parts of the vehicle.”

Members of the committee expressed concern over Tesla’s business model, saying auto dealers are an important part of the state’s economy and offer a level of protection to the consumer.

“We’re not talking about an Apple cell phone,” Delegate Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, said. “We’re talking about a major investment.”

Ruth Lemmon, president of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association, said the update to current state code would in fact prevent Tesla from doing business in the state while protecting consumers and keeping the industry competitive. She said when a company both manufactures and sells a vehicle, it creates an unfair monopoly.

The dealer “serves as an advocate for the consumer,” Lemmon said. “Consequently, because dealers are competitive, you could have three or four dealershps in a city. Those three dealers would be competing against each other which would keep the costs steady. But when you have a monopoly, the owner and retailer as one and the same, it doesn’t benefit the consumer as much.”

Nicholas said Tesla is interested in selling its vehicles in West Virginia and eventually opening up a service center, but Senate Bill 453 would prevent that. Currently, the closest Tesla centers are in Cincinnati, Columbus, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

“We want to be regulated just as any new car dealer would be, Nicholas said, adding, “We would obtain the sales license ourselves and act as a dealer.”

The base price of its Model S is about $71,000, but Nicholas said the company plans to manufacture a third generation model by 2017 that could go for $35,000 to $45,000. Tesla would invest at least $10 million in opening a service center and create 25 jobs.

“We’d like to do that here in West Virginia, but we need to sell more vehicles in order to do so,” Nicholas said.

The committee recessed for the morning floor session, but will reconvene this afternoon to consider amendments to the bill.

 

 

Amendment targets Uber clause

March 9, 2015 by Whitney Burdette

An amendment offered to Senate Bill 585 took aim at Uber’s nondiscrimination policy.

The amendment, offered by Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, sought to remove language from a nondiscrimination clause banning the mistreatment of Uber users based on sexual orientation. LGBT West Virginians are not protected under current statute, and Fast argued the bill shouldn’t include those protections either.
However Uber, the fast-rising ride sharing company, prohibits drivers from denying customers because of sexual orientation, according to the company’s nondiscrimination clause

Fast argued the company’s drivers should get to choose with whom they do business. But opponents of the amendment argued Uber opens West Virginia up to more business and removing sexual orientation from the bill sends the wrong message.

Fast’s amendment eventually failed 21-2, with only Fast and Delegate Mike Azinger, R-Wood, voting in favor.
The bill now goes to the full House. It passed the Senate March 4 by a margin of 33-1, with Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, voting against.

An amendment offered to Senate Bill 14, allowing public charter schools, and adopted by the House Education Committee removed specific language protecting LGBT students. The amendment’s sponsors say the adopted language was meant to discourage discrimination without naming specific classes. Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson and the state’s first openly gay lawmaker, has said he plans to introduce a floor amendment to restore the original language.

 

Statements from pols on Marshall County collapse

March 9, 2015 by joelebert

The West Virginia state Senate held a moment of silence at the beginning of today’s floor session to pay respects to Mike Garloch, who died last night in the Marshall County Coal mine collapse near Cameron.

Sen. Joe Manchin:

“Gayle and I join all West Virginians in sending our deepest condolences to the loved ones of John “Mike” Garloch of Neffs, Ohio, whose life was taken far too soon as a result of last night’s tragic mine collapse in Marshall County. Our thoughts and prayers also go out to the courageous miners who are suffering from injuries and being treated at this time. Every worker should be able to go to work in the morning and expect to come home safely to their loved ones at night, and this incident is a reminder that we must consistently search for ways to improve mine safety conditions. My staff and I will do everything we can to assist the families and the community through this most difficult hardship.”

 Rep. David McKinley:

“Last night, a tragic incident occurred at the Marshall County Mine near Cameron, resulting in the death of a coal miner and two injuries. Mary and my thoughts and prayers are with the family as they mourn this loss.

We should never forget that every day coal miners go to work to keep our economy running in a difficult and potentially dangerous job. The authorities are investigating the details of how this incident occurred and we will await their findings.”

As more come in the inbox, I’ll add them to the post.

—–UPDATE—-

Rep. Alex Mooney:

“Grace and I want to extend our thoughts and prayers to the family of John M. “Mike” Garloch as they mourn the tragic loss of a loved one.  I deeply appreciate the hard, and at times dangerous, work of coal miners in our state who form the backbone of our economy.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family of John M. ‘Mike’ Garloch, who tragically lost his life in the Marshall County mine collapse last night, as well as the miners who suffered injuries. Hard-working coal miners play an important role in our state and ensuring their safety is paramount.”

Real Clear Politics explores Manchin’s options

March 9, 2015 by joelebert

A little while back I received an email from David Byler, who writes for Real Clear Politics. Byler, who is a West Virginia native, was interested in talking to reporters on the ground to get a sense of what the political atmosphere is like in the Legislature between Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the new Republican majority. He was largely interested in how they are working together and whether or not Sen. Joe Manchin would be able to work with Republicans, if he decides to come back and run for governor (and if he wins).

The premise of the story is to explore different angles that must be considered by Manchin. In the story, Byler asked three questions:

1) Would staying in Washington or winning a third term as West Virginia governor be most beneficial for the Democratic Party, from both a national and state perspective?

2) Does a West Virginia Democrat have a better chance at an open gubernatorial or senatorial seat?

3) In which office would Manchin be able to advance his policy goals more effectively?

The story is interesting in several ways. It even brings up the notion that Manchin could switch parties and run as a Republican. If he were to do so, that would throw a major curve into the plans of Republicans, especially given those considering running (Senate President Bill Cole and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey).

You can read Byler’s story here.