Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package:
It’s not the same as winning the lottery, but it’s close. And just as lottery winners must deal with the hazards of unexpected and unearned wealth, so must counties and municipalities throughout the nation and here in West Virginia.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced recently that local governments in West Virginia will get a share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan package.
“For the first time in generations, our towns and counties are receiving direct funding to address the specific needs facing each individual community,” Manchin said.
The question that now faces counties and municipalities is how to use that money to benefit the most people for the longest time. Several communities are already on track to do just that.
Barboursville is to receive $1.77 million, which it plans to use toward the $2 million cost of the first phase of sewage treatment system improvements, Mayor Chris Tatum told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Fred Pace in a front-page article in Sunday’s edition. The total cost of the project, which includes closing the existing sewage lagoon and sending the village’s wastewater to the Pea Ridge Public Service District treatment plant, is $8 million to $10 million, Tatum said. That means the American Rescue Plan money will pay a good percentage of that and hold down rate increases for village residents and businesses.
The town of Ceredo has been told it will receive $530,000 spread over two years, said Mayor Paul Billups. That money will go to a water project and a sewer project that should be shovel-ready this year, he said. Those two projects should cost a combined $175,000, so town officials are studying what other infrastructure needs can be addressed with the remainder, Billups said.
The city of Kenova will receive $1.23 million. Mayor Tim Bias said city officials are waiting for guidance from the federal government on how the money may be spent. In the meantime, they are gathering information on water, sewer and other projects that can be done.
The largest amount among counties and cities in the state will go to the city of Huntington — $44.84 million.
“Our guiding principle is for each dollar of the $44.84 million we are projected to receive from the Rescue plan, we will leverage an additional $5 of investment in our community,” Williams told Pace. “We expect this approach to leverage this one-time appropriation to a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar expenditure in our city. The quarter-of-a-billion-dollar investment in our city then will have an economic impact that will transform our city and region for the next five decades.”
Williams didn’t provide any specific details, so people who live or work in the city or have other connections to it may have to wait to see how this windfall will be used.
Huntington certainly could use the money for infrastructure improvements. City streets and underpasses flood after heavy storms. Internet speeds are not enough to compete for businesses or workers who are looking to relocate from larger cities. And there are potholes — too many to count.
County governments also are in line to receive stimulus money. Cabell County has been told it will receive $17.83 million. Wayne County will receive $7.64 million.
Some communities may need to spend part or most of the money to compensate for what was lost during the pandemic-related lockdowns last year. For most, however, spending money on infrastructure and permanent improvements — known in the private sector as capital expenditures — is a must. There will be so many temptations to set aside some of this money for projects that benefit limited numbers of people. Legions of consultants and special interests probably have begun planning to get their hands on sizable chunks of it. The taxpaying public must be vigilant to ensure that does not happen.
As with almost every other large-scale endeavor of state and local government, transparency is a must. The public must be informed at each step of the way to ensure that two or three years from now there will be visible results from the windfall that Congress has sent this way.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Gov. Jim Justice and the removal of the Greenbrier Classic from The PGA Tour:
For someone who claims he can bear the burden of leadership and never misleads the people of West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice spends a lot of time whining about news media treatment while also spreading inaccurate information.
During a Monday coronavirus briefing, Gazette-Mail reporter Phil Kabler asked Justice about Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raliegh, contracting COVID-19 and the disregard among some Republican legislators for public health guidelines.
The governor replied that he has consistently preached following guidelines regarding masks, gatherings and social distancing, and that the consequences for ignoring such things are predictable. He said he wishes Steele a speedy recovery.
That should have been the end of it. But, as has happened so many times during these briefings for more than a year now, Justice couldn’t restrain himself.
“Now, Phil, while I’ve got you, I want to clean up one more thing ...” he began.
What followed was a rambling, misleading attack on the Gazette-Mail that had nothing to do with the question, going back to former Statehouse reporter Jake Zuckerman, who has not worked at this publication for more than a year.
Justice said Zuckerman “wrote a lot of stuff bad about Old White Charities,” referring to the nonprofit that used to operate The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tournament event, later renamed A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
While saying all of this, Justice attacked Kabler for reporting on Justice’s son buying PGA golfer Bubba Watson’s house near The Greenbrier resort for $2.5 million — which did happen.
The governor accused Kabler of lying about ownership of the house, but neither Kabler nor any other Gazette-Mail reporter ever wrote that anyone in the Justice family currently owned or had lived at the house, just that they had purchased it. (Even the Greenbrier County Assessor’s Office was confused about who owned the house when contacted by the Gazette-Mail. They still had Watson as the owner, then later confirmed that Justice’s son had purchased the property and sold it.)
If Justice or his staff ever responded to reporters’ questions for stories, such reports might be less vague.
Moving on from Kabler, the governor seemed to suggest that Zuckerman’s reporting on Old White Charities’ financial troubles and a Department of Justice investigation ended up costing West Virginia its PGA event, even though no charges were ever filed.
That Justice holds a misguided grudge against Zuckerman and, in at least some way, holds him responsible for shuttering the tournament shows how thin-skinned the governor can be, not to mention untruthful and illogical.
Zuckerman was hardly the only reporter, and the Gazette-Mail a far cry from the only news outlet, reporting on the DOJ issuing subpoenas for financial records from Old White Charities.
Neither was Zuckerman, nor any other reporter in the state of West Virginia, writing “a lot of stuff bad” about the organization. When the federal government is investigating a charity at a resort owned by the governor involving a PGA event, that’s simply news. Justice seems to think the public shouldn’t know about such things and, if a news outlet reports them, it’s somehow a personal attack.
As for suggesting a reporter or news outlet caused The Greenbrier to lose its PGA tournament, that’s flat out false, and the governor knows it.
Old White Charities was being examined because it was more than $10 million in the red. And when Justice claims he was funneling his own money into the charity to keep the tournament going, what he really means is he was taking money from his businesses — none of which he divested himself from when he became governor — and redirecting it to the charity.
The real problem was that the tournament never made any money. The one year it did, government funding was involved.
Having a PGA Tour event in West Virginia was a wonderful thing, and Justice deserves credit for making it happen. It just wasn’t sustainable. Sponsorships, which should have financially bolstered the event, were always lacking. Entertainment and events around the tournament were scaled back each year.
Unforeseen circumstances also played a role. The 2012 derecho that wrecked the course 72 hours before play was to start, and the 2016 flood that forced the tournament to be canceled were massive financial setbacks.
Each year, the event attracted fewer big names from the PGA Tour. Then the PGA moved the tournament from the Independence Day weekend to September, cutting fan attendance. The COVID-19 pandemic was the final straw.
None of that is Justice’s fault. He tried to do something great, and, for a while, he pulled it off. The tournament just never got to the point where it could survive that many bad breaks. A DOJ investigation probably didn’t help matters, but it was clear from what was uncovered that, financially, the event was already on the shakiest of ground.
If Justice wants West Virginians to believe he’s got broad shoulders and will always steer them true, he needs to stop coming publicly unwound every time he reads something he doesn’t like. Being half as truthful as he claims to be would go a long way, too.
The Intelligencer on economic diversity and growth in the state:
West Virginia is in desperate need of economic diversity and growth — and multiple new revenue streams.
That kind of change does not come from turning back to the way things have always been done. It comes from forging new paths with new ideas and energy.
But, according to WalletHub, the Mountain State is one of the worst in the country at doing so.
In its list of most innovative states, WalletHub placed West Virginia near the bottom, at 48th. Though we pride ourselves on our smart, capable workforce, the state’s “human capital” ranked 44th on the list. In terms of “innovation environment,” we placed 50th.
When we talk about how employers and potential residents view West Virginia, it is 47th for its share of STEM professionals, 47th for its share of technology companies, 49th for research and development spending per capita and 50th for venture-capital funding per capita.
These numbers are not so dismal because our people are not capable of excelling in new fields. What is holding us back?
Local school districts are doing a better job of teaching our kids science, technology, engineering and mathematics; but there is room for improvement. Institutions of higher learning are looking for ways to provide the real-world training students of all ages need for a changed employment landscape; but doing it without crippling debt for those students is a challenge.
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle to overcome will be the socio-cultural resistance to encouraging children (and older family members who have lost their jobs) to explore these new fields. We’re known for being smart and capable — but we’re also known for a bit of stubborn pride. Politicians who bow to lobbyists and play to that stubborn pride, rather than working toward doing what they know would truly propel West Virginia into the world of modern work, are even more guilty. But they can make a difference, should they so choose.
They can, if they choose, make the decisions that will turn rankings such as WalletHub’s on their heads.