- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Dec. 7

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on eliminating tolls from the West Virginia Turnpike:

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, is to be applauded for remaining steadfast in his resolve to have tolls removed the West Virginia Turnpike come 2019.

Gearheart’s goal during most of his political career has been to eliminate tolls from the turnpike - a move that many residents across our region support. The original bond indebtedness associated with the development of the 88-mile toll road is due to expire come 2019. But it will likely take legislative action from lawmakers in Charleston to ensure that the tolls are removed once and for all.

Gearheart, who serves as chair of the House Committee on Transportation, says he is committed to ensuring that the tolls are removed come 2019. He took another step in that direction last week when he announced to the Parkways Authority board that he will again introduce legislation that will give “some obvious direction toward that eventual date in 2019 so this board and the Division of Highways know where we are going.”

Gearheart offered no specifics about what his legislation would say other than tolls would be eliminated. He said he wanted to make sure the board members were aware of his intentions. We are glad to see that Gearheart is sticking to his guns.

Gearheart, like many other local residents who travel to Charleston on a regular basis, says he hits three toll booths on his way to the state capitol. Many perceive these burdensome tolls as an unfair tax on residents of the deep south counties.

Yet some - including members of the Parkways Authority board - continue to argue in support of maintaining turnpike tolls. They argue that the majority of toll revenue comes from out-of-state passenger and commercial vehicles. The board members also claim that without tolls in place, it would be too costly for the state Division of Highways to maintain the turnpike. But when considering that the DOH is already responsible for the maintenance of more than 35,000 miles of state roads, the 88-mile toll road would simply be a minuscule addition to what is already maintained.

Consider these simple analogies. Would you keep making car payments once your vehicle is paid in full? Would you continue to make mortgage payments once your home is paid in full? Of course you wouldn’t. So why keep paying for tolls once the original bond indebtedness is paid in full?

We are glad to see that Gearheart is sticking to his pledge to eliminate tolls. And we look forward to learning more about his proposed legislation addressing the turnpike toll situation.

Online:

http://www.bdtonline.com

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Dec. 15

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on moving federal agencies to West Virginia:

The vicinity around Washington, D.C., booms with prosperity, subdivisions, shopping malls and other growth - thanks to an array of high-paying government jobs and affiliated specialists such as higher-paid lawyer-lobbyists pursuing federal favors for clients. The activity creates good times.

When the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., headed the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, he used his post to become the Mountain State’s best economic development agent. He moved billions of dollars worth of federal agencies and contracts from D.C. to West Virginia, providing thousands of new jobs in his home state.

Now a Washington specialist with ties to West Virginia recommends that more U.S. agencies be dispersed from the national capital, to bring America’s government closer to people everywhere, instead of keeping it concentrated in one spot.

Dan McGinn - who was top aide to former Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., before he joined Charleston publicist Charles Ryan in creating a Washington public relations firm in the 1980s - wrote a Washington Post commentary titled “Make the government more American and less Washington.” He noted:

“Some years ago, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., exercised his power as chairman of the Appropriations Committee to move the FBI’s fingerprinting operation from the bureau’s headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue to Clarksburg, W.Va. The move was sharply criticized as a naked exercise of power that would undermine the FBI’s abilities to track criminals. In fact, the move was a brilliant success … The FBI and the taxpayers are infinitely better off with this facility in a small town in West Virginia. Employee turnover has plummeted. And it is functioning better than ever … In Clarksburg, the FBI facility is a community treasure.”

McGinn suggested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be moved closer to high-pollution zones, instead of remaining in Washington. Ditto for other federal functions.

The situation is different for state governments. West Virginia’s Constitution requires state offices to remain at “the seat of government,” Charleston. But federal agencies already are scattered - such as hundreds of Army bases, Navy stations, military academies, national park and forest operations, FBI and Justice Department offices and other U.S. facilities spread everywhere.

McGinn’s idea deserves consideration - especially if more of those lucrative U.S. jobs come to West Virginia.

Online:

http://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Dec. 15

The Herald-Dispatch on Internet access in West Virginia:

Thousands of residents in West Virginia - and potentially the state as a whole - received some positive news last week about planned improvements to Frontier Communications’ Internet service.

An agreement announced by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey commits Frontier to spending $150 million over the next three years to improve its customers’ Internet speeds, with the additional impact of extending higher-speed Internet service to areas served by Frontier that now do not have it, according to Morrisey’s office.

That must be considered encouraging to Frontier’s existing Internet customers who said they were paying for “high-speed” service but weren’t getting it. In addition, those without what Frontier labeled high-speed service may gain access to such service more quickly than they would have otherwise.

The pact is important because many of Frontier’s customers in West Virginia do not have access to high-speed Internet service from any other supplier than Frontier. That not only inhibited Internet communications and usage for residents, but was viewed as an inhibitor of economic development because businesses in those areas also did not have high-speed Internet capabilities to carry out their work and communications.

Frontier entered the agreement voluntarily, Morrisey said, and admitted no wrongdoing. But Morrisey noted that his office pursued the agreement with Frontier because of a large volume of complaints from customers who said they expected Internet speeds of up to 6 megabytes per second but often were served by speeds of 1.5 megabytes per second or lower. And reports issued by the state over the past couple of years say that Frontier, the state’s largest Internet service provider, has service speeds significantly lower than other providers in the state, although Frontier contends those studies were skewed.

In any case, 28,000 Frontier Internet subscribers to high speed service will now see a reduced monthly rate of $9.99 until the upgrades promised in the agreement yield a speed of 6 megabytes per second. That equates to a monthly savings to them of $10 to $20.

After the announcement of the settlement, Frontier spokesmen said the company had intended to address the speed issues and that the agreement will accelerate that process. In addition, the company is also obligated to continue with its infrastructure upgrades already planned in conjunction with an annual $38 million federal grant over the next five years.

The key point going forward is for the attorney general’s office to monitor Frontier’s work to meet its new commitment. While the reduced monthly charges give Frontier a strong incentive to complete the upgrades in a timely fashion, that does not absolve the attorney general’s office from monitoring the progress, ensuring the money is spent efficiently and that acceptable Internet speeds are realized on time. Questions have been raised in the past regarding a separate project in which Frontier was to expand broadband Internet service under an economic stimulus program launched in 2010. If this new agreement with Frontier is to produce the results as promised, strong oversight should be part of the equation.

Online:

http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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