- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 11

The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the proposed West Virginia state budget:

Just before midnight Saturday, Gov. Jim Justice happily announced that a compromise seemed imminent to solve West Virginia’s budget nightmare. He said GOP legislators were on the brink of accepting a plan that would avoid major damage to state-owned colleges, public schools and health systems - and also give teachers a 2 percent raise. It would raise revenue through a 1 percent sales tax hike, more gasoline tax, a gross receipts tax on businesses and an extra tax on incomes above $200,000.

However, the compromise collapsed, and Republicans reverted to their previous, destructive, senseless budget that would wreck many valuable government services needed by West Virginians.

The final GOP version slashes 9 percent from the two flagship universities, WVU and Marshall - at a time when higher education is the only hope for economic growth in the Mountain State. It also bleeds another $90 million from the state’s Rainy Day reserve, cuts $48 million from health care for the poor, slashes $1 million from public broadcasting and fails to give teachers a raise.

This budget, if allowed to stand, will make West Virginia a “failed state” - a backwater with little to offer residents or businesses. Justice should veto it, then call a special session in which the Republican-controlled Legislature will be forced to perform its constitutional duty of funding the state government.

West Virginia’s crisis occurred because past Legislatures approved gigantic tax giveaways to business in hope of “creating jobs” - but it didn’t work, and employment declined. Then, the coal industry went south, cutting revenue further. Now, West Virginians are left holding the bag.

Even if desperate slashing fends off bankruptcy in the 2017-18 budget, the following year is projected to be deeper in the red.

A major GOP figure, Grover Norquist, once bragged about the conservative goal of making government so small it could be “drowned in a bathtub.” Is that the mentality driving the current Republican slash-and-burn budget? Don’t they care how much harm will be done?

Legislators ran for office on a promise to uphold the state Constitution, which requires the legislative branch to raise enough revenue to operate the government. If they’re summoned into a special session, it might force them to do their duty.

Online:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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April 10

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph on the RECLAIM Act to diversify the regional economy:

While the coal industry may be showing renewed signs of life here in the mountains of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, efforts to diversify our regional economy and create new jobs must continue. A federal measure that has been reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate can help in accomplishing that goal.

The RECLAIM Act would release $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund balance to help communities that have traditionally relied on coal production for jobs or have recently experienced significant coal job losses. Through the proposed bill, nearly $200 million would be designated for West Virginia alone over five years, and the state would work with local communities to identify and fund economic development projects on abandoned mine sites.

The RECLAIM Act has been co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa. The companion to the House bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The measure was originally introduced into Congress in 2016. Jenkins and other lawmakers are working to get the new bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote.

Jenkins says the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee heard testimony last week from experts about how the bill would help spur reclamation and development of abandoned mine lands. One pilot project that was highlighted, the Patriot Gardens, involves the restoration of an old surface mine and combines agriculture and job training aimed at helping West Virginia veterans develop agriculture businesses.

“Our towns, counties and states need the resources to rebuild, diversify our economy, attract new employers, create jobs, and give hope to the people who call Appalachia home,” Jenkins said.

We agree. And we believe the RECLAIM Act could still be a big help for coal-producing communities across our region. Of course there would need to be an appropriate plan in place to ensure that the funding is fairly and adequately distributed to the most hard-hit communities and toward well-intended economic development projects.

Congress should act soon on this important measure.

Online:

https://www.bdtonline.com

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April 5

The Inter-Mountain of Elkins on hypocrisy in the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration:

Federal hypocrisy is nothing new. But when it jeopardizes the lives of people whose jobs have been targeted by that same government, it is particularly difficult to swallow.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General, negligence on the part of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration did just that during the same years the Environmental Protection Agency was waging its war on coal and reasonably priced electricity.

When mine disasters killed 19 workers at Sago and Aracoma in West Virginia, and the Darby Mine in Kentucky, in 2006, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act.

Officials vowed a fresh look at mine safety regulations in 2010, after another 29 miners were killed, this time at Upper Big Branch.

Since Upper Big Branch, there have been at least 37 fatal mine accidents in West Virginia.

During that period, according to the Inspector General’s office, MSHA’s insufficient oversight and failure to note inaccuracies and omissions in required emergency response plans “placed miners at unnecessarily increased risk .”

MSHA compounded their neglect by arguing the investigators should not have said 40 of the 177 wrong phone numbers found on emergency plans were truly incorrect because dialing them produced this message: “At no additional charge, AT&T; can help you find a similar business in the same area, since the number you have called is not in service. Please stay on the line for alternate businesses, or for an additional charge, call directory assistance.”

Needless to say, the Inspector General’s office didn’t buy MSHA’s excuse.

Investigators found “multiple instances” of other problems with MSHA’s inspections and oversight.

As lawmakers and the president try to clean house in Washington, D.C., they should bear the report critical of MSHA in mind.

Online:

https://www.theintermountain.com

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