- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

March 23

Charleston (West Virginia) Daily Mail on Jeff Kessler’s run for governor:

Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, spent much of the recent legislative session denouncing the new Republican majority and its agenda. His complaints grew louder and more fiery as the session progressed, leading some to wonder what the former Senate president was up to.

Kessler answered that question last week when he announced … that he will run for governor. He is the first official entrant into the race to replace Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin, who is term-limited.

He is also setting himself up as one of the more liberal voices in the field.

Kessler, who stakes out rhetorical positions to the left of many of his fellow West Virginia Democrats, finished fifth in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2011.

His latest bid for the governor’s mansion will excite the liberals in the state who claim that Democrats have lost ground because they aren’t distinguishable enough from Republicans.

Democrats suffered a rout in November that gave Republicans a U.S. Senate seat, ousted long-time Democratic Congressman Nick Rahall, and ended Democratic control of the state Legislature after an 83-year reign.

“It’s time for us to take back our state and have Democrats who aren’t afraid to show the distinctions between our party and theirs,” Kessler said.

In this version of events - some might call it an alternate reality - West Virginia Democrats lost their races last fall not because they were too liberal for the electorate, but because they weren’t liberal enough.

It’s a theory many Democrats no doubt find comforting, even if it’s not supported by facts. West Virginia has been trending Republican for years in national races. The 2014 election merely confirmed that shift at the state level.

Far from being “radical and wrong,” as Kessler likes to say, the Republican majority in the legislature this year operated in a more bipartisan manner than recent Democratic ones. Kessler himself voted with Republicans on some supposedly controversial bills, including on abortion and guns.

Nonetheless, Sen. Kessler says he hears a groundswell of West Virginians crying out for left-wing leadership in Charleston. The success of his campaign will show whether that is an actual cry or an echo from the past.




March 25

The Register-Herald, Bleckley, West Virginia, on lack of manufacturing jobs:

A report this week in The Register-Herald looked closely into manufacturing in West Virginia. What we found was a top-heavy representation of manufacturing businesses and jobs in the northern part of the state. Cabell County leads the way, and along with Wood, Kanawha, Monongalia and Putnam, accounts for 44 percent of the state’s manufacturing activities. The next five counties - Brooke, Berkeley, Marion, Wayne and Ohio - account for another 15 percent of manufacturing.

So why isn’t the southern part of the state better represented when it comes to manufacturing activity? We think there are four reasons.

First, says Rebecca Randolph, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, manufacturers have historically been unable to match the wages in coal industry jobs - currently averaging $86,000 annually - putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring.

As of January, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the average manufacturing worker in West Virginia makes $19.02 per hour, compared with $16.31 per hour for other workers. Manufacturing jobs, though, make up just 6 percent of total state employment.

Secondly, many argue that the terrain in the southern part of the state - a lack of flat land with considerable contiguous acreage - doesn’t lend itself to attracting manufacturers who would have to build a new facility.

Thirdly, we think, state and local officials have historically ignored the need for diversifying southern West Virginia’s economy as long as coal remained king.

And finally, education in the southern part of the state has not focused on producing a workforce that can master manufacturing jobs.

Our take on these issues is that the ebb of coal jobs in the region is the new normal. Although we hope they come back, we can’t count on it.

So the wage issue really isn’t an issue. While not as lucrative as a coal-mining job, good manufacturing jobs will put food on the table for southern West Virginians who want to stay in the region. As far as suitable flat land for manufacturing concerns, New River Gorge Redevelopment Authority spokesperson Lillian Graning says that just isn’t an issue. It’s been an excuse, she said. While giant auto plants may have trouble finding a spot to build on, small and medium-sized manufacturing concerns will find plenty of room in the southern part of the state.

On the third issue, it is perhaps understandable that officials have ignored non-coal employment in the region. But those days may be gone, and we hope our local, state and federal officials can look at the region in a new way, a view that encourages everybody to work together toward diversifying our economy.

Finally, we think once we start to add manufacturing jobs in the region, educational institutions will have real incentive to offer curriculums that can feed the need for these jobs. It’s hardly fair to criticize them for not offering training for jobs that haven’t existed here previously.

Overall, West Virginia ranked 39th among states in manufacturing activities, the lowest among neighboring states, according to the Economic Policy study.

That presents us with a great opportunity to close the manufacturing gap.




March 24

Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, West Virginia on investing in higher education:

The list of needed renovations and repairs on West Virginia’s college campuses is growing and likely to get longer.

The state is simply not providing public four-year colleges with enough funding to maintain their aging campuses, according to a consultant’s report to the Higher Education Policy Commission late last week. The HEPC requested the study as it looks at how to manage and fund the state schools without just raising the costs for students and their parents.

With 12 schools in the state system, the investment in facilities has been substantial about $2.7 billion through last year and the schools spend about $132 million a year for operations and maintenance. But the study suggested another $50 million of annual spending to keep up.

The Connecticut-based Sightlines education-facilities advisement group assigned a “renovation age” to each campus it studies, weighting the age of its buildings with remodeling and maintenance that has been done. As a whole the West Virginia system is the second “oldest” in terms of facilities of the nine systems in its “peer” group used in the study. That group included Missouri, Connecticut, Oregon, Maine, Mississippi and several others.

The consultant then calculated the “keep-up” costs - the annual investment needed to ensure buildings will fulfill their purpose and useful life - and the “catch-up” costs or backlog of repairs and modernization.

The campus facility “ages” range from West Virginia Tech at 55 years to Shepherd University at 27 years. Marshall’s evaluated age was 32.7 years and West Virginia University’s was 38.8 years. Marshall’s needs are a mix of “keep up” and “catch up” costs, and WVU needed primarily “keep up” spending, according to the report.

The state has provided what the consultants called sporadic and often one-time funding, and something more consistent is needed.

“The current levels of investment are not enough to keep deferred maintenance from growing,” Peter Reeves of Sightlines told the Charleston Gazette.

These infrastructure costs are just another reminder that the state’s declining support of higher education is taking us in the wrong direction. The legislature has cut spending almost every year since 2008; meanwhile, tuition and fees continue to rise.

For a state with the lowest educational attainment in the nation, that is a poor strategy.



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