- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:


Sept. 5

Bluefield Daily Telegraph on workers’ compensation premiums:

West Virginia employers will see a projected $21 million reduction in workers’ compensation premiums in the coming year, according to Gov. Jim Justice.

Last week’s announcement from the Department of Revenue is another reminder of the remarkable turnaround of the state’s once troubled workers’ compensation system. West Virginia employers have now saved more than $373 million since the program was privatized in 2006.

Justice is correctly applauding the savings. “This rate reduction will really help businesses in our state,” Justice said. “When you look at the strides we’ve made over the past 13 years to lower workers’ compensation premiums, it is impressive how far we’ve come. This is great news for employers and will translate into more jobs for West Virginians.”

The reduction in workers’ compensation premiums also should translate into lower costs for employers and a more productive work environment, a point correctly noted by State Insurance Commissioner Allan McVey.

It is also important to note that the National Council of Compensation Insurance has filed a proposed reduction of 10.3 percent in workers’ compensation loss rates with the Office of the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner. This is the 13th reduction in 13 years, according to the governor’s office.

It accounts for a cumulative decrease of 72.2 percent from pre-reform levels. A proposed 8.7 percent rate decrease for the assigned risk market also has been filed by the NCCI.

This is all excellent news. We have come a long way since 2006 in reshaping and resurrecting a government controlled system that was once on the brink of bankruptcy. The latest projected savings in workers’ compensation premiums is another win for employers in West Virginia.

Online: https://www.bdtonline.com/


Sept. 3

The Herald-Dispatch on troubled properties in West Virginia:

When the City of Huntington began working on the problem of vacant and dilapidated housing more than a decade ago, it seemed to be viewed as more of a local issue rather than the statewide crisis it has always been.

In fact, several of Huntington’s early ordinances and strategies came through the city’s early participation in an experimental home rule program that gave local communities more flexibility to address local issues. Without question, the nuisance property problem was a local issue.

Once a city of 86,000 people, Huntington’s population had declined to around 50,000 in 2000, but the houses those parting residents had lived in, the commercial buildings they worked in and the schools and churches they attended remained. Property values stagnated in many areas, and the incentive to reinvest often declined as well. Decaying properties became havens for trouble, fire hazards and eyesores, dragging down the neighborhoods around them.

But today, it is clear that the same dynamic is choking many cities and towns in West Virginia, large and small. Unfortunately, local governments have limited resources to tear down nuisance properties, and some of the state’s own rules make the process ever more difficult.

One of the most troubling is the tax-lien system counties use for delinquent property taxes. While not all delinquent properties are dilapidated or vacant, many are, and too often troubled properties get tied up in the process for years and simply continue to deteriorate.

“You get some who buy large amounts of property at tax sales, sight unseen, they don’t really vet what they’re purchasing and they’ll buy (multiple) properties,” Clarksburg City Manager Martin Howe told The State Journal recently. “These are properties communities are already having issues with.”

Huntington began its land bank program in 2009 in an effort to secure and maintain some of these properties and hopefully one day convert them to a more productive use. But even with that forward-looking program, too many nuisance properties are still tied up in red tape.

Even after local governments wade through the process of gaining control of dilapidated properties, they still face the cost of tearing them down, which can run into thousands of dollars per unit. For many communities, that limits the number of demolition projects to just a few each year, and the backlog continues to grow.

Despite Huntington’s persistent and innovative efforts - one year the National Guard helped tear down 40 houses - the number of buildings that need to come down still totals close to 500, city Planning & Development Director Scott Lemley told The State Journal.

After years of treating these housing issues as a local problem, it is time for state lawmakers to recognize that dilapidated housing is a critical statewide issue that hampers the state’s economic growth, tourism and development.

It is time for a statewide solution that gives communities the tools and resources to eliminate nuisance properties and revitalize our neighborhoods.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/


Sept. 6

The Inter Mountain on the Senate confirming David Zatezalo as the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration:

Assuming the U.S. Senate agrees, a Wheeling man will become the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration. That could be a very good thing, because the local man, David Zatezalo, has bottom-to-top experience in the coal industry.

Zatezalo has been nominated to serve as assistant secretary of labor, in charge of the MSHA. For him to take office, the Senate must vote to confirm him.

It is to be expected that some senators may object to Zatezalo because of his career.

His experience in mining began as a laborer and member of the United Mine Workers union. He moved steadily up, becoming chief executive officer of a coal company before retiring.

Zatezalo is coming out of retirement at the urging of people in the industry who asked him to apply for the Labor Department post. Clearly, they want someone in charge of the MSHA who understands the mining industry.

Too many of those making and administering policy in Washington are more comfortable with the world of the bureaucracy than with the people, organizations and companies they regulate. As Zatezalo put it in an interview with us, “there were too many elitists in the government who really had no connection to working America.”

It is both unfortunate and sad that a substantial number of senators share those traits. They can be expected to oppose Zatezalo. So can some Democrats who will criticize him solely because he is being nominated by a Republican president.

Senators should vote for Zatezalo because he is a veteran of the industry, not a career bureaucrat. For the American economy to prosper, the country needs more people like him in government.

Just as important, Congress needs to give Zatezalo the support he will need if he is to be successful in reforming the culture at the MSHA. The bureaucrats will fight him tooth and nail, with every tool at their disposal. As the rules are written now, they will have an advantage in that regard.

Zatezalo has a record of concern for safety in the mines, as well as for making the operations he has overseen successful. Ensuring the MSHA is focused on safety - not just on flexing its bureaucratic muscles - will be a boon to both miners and companies strangled by Washington red tape.

Online: https://www.theintermountain.com/

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