- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Feb. 11

Charleston Gazette-Mail on the Gazette-Mail’s bankruptcy and future:

The Gazette-Mail’s bankruptcy case proceeds in a world where changes in the news industry have been gathering for decades, both here and abroad. That made West Virginia’s newspaper news a topic of interest around the world.



A recent Columbia Journalism Review article spells out clearly the ground shift that the Gazette-Mail and its readers are living through. If good reporting is a public service, and the old 19th-century for-profit model doesn’t support that public service like it used to, then a logical step is to move to a non-profit model.

Two projects are the most recent examples of that shift here. ProPublica chose the Gazette-Mail as one of seven newspapers where it would support more investigative reporting this year. The paper is one of three organizations, along with West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the Lexington Herald-Leader, involved in Report for America, an effort of the GroundTruth Project, with special emphasis on Appalachia.

A New York Times story caught the swing of fortune succinctly, of course: “A West Virginia Newspaper Won Journalism’s Top Award. Now It’s Filed for Bankruptcy.” That report came even as Eric Eyre continues to document the flow and reach of legal pills killing West Virginians.

Meanwhile, the brilliant Charles P. Pierce of Esquire magazine summed up “The State of the Journalism Industry, in Two Stories: Chris Christie joins ABC News while a Pulitzer-winning paper declares bankruptcy.”

Probably the most eye-catching version of our story we saw this week was a column in El País, an international paper based in Madrid. Our Spanish is weak, but we got the drift.

Gracias, amigos.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Feb. 13

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on the state business inventory tax:

At the beginning of the Legislative session, the path seemed clear for West Virginia lawmakers to take another step to improve the state’s economy. Now, there are obstacles - you guessed it, money.

Making the state more attractive for job creators has been one of the current Legislature’s top priorities. Phasing out the business inventory tax is the target for this year.

West Virginia is one of only 10 states with such a tax, and that puts us at a disadvantage in persuading business executives to locate new operations here. It also makes life more difficult for existing businesses.

But proceeds from the tax go to county governments, so lawmakers cannot simply write that revenue off the books. To their credit, they have been working on a plan to “hold harmless” local governments that rely heavily on the tax.

Early in the legislative session, the plan was to phase the tax out over a seven-year period, by reducing it $20 million annually.

That seemed achievable at a time when state revenue appeared to be on an upward track and demands for new funding were limited.

But then lawmakers learned the January revenue report was a bleak one. Income for the first seven months of the year has been below estimates on which the budget was based.

And new demands for spending have arisen. Among them is a need to find $29 million a year to avoid premium increases in the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

During the past two years, reform-minded legislators have found themselves frustrated on several initiatives. This one is worth continued effort, simply because it could bring much-needed new jobs to the Mountain State.

Lawmakers should stick with their plan on the inventory tax. Making it happen will be more difficult than it appeared a month ago, but as has been said, few good things in life are easy.

Online: http://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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Feb. 14

The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg on a bill that would make confidential some details of public projects:

Consider it ironic that in introducing legislation to shield important facts from the public in regards to public projects funded through the taxpayer-supported road bond, lawmakers had shed light on their own fears of transparency.

And that sums up Senate Bill 474, which would keep government entities from releasing for public consumption records that show whether companies benefiting from state tax dollars are hiring West Virginians.

Shrouded in talk of “privacy” and “identity theft,” those supporting the bill, including Preston County Sen. Dave Sypolt and Tucker County Sen. Randy Smith, both Republicans, say that private information of workers like addresses and phone numbers could be released.

But, in reality, what lawmakers - and some contractors - fear is the release of information in regards to competitive wages, as well as whether companies are meeting the threshold of hiring 75 percent of their work force from West Virginia.

Companies fear the release of wage information could aid competitors, either in bidding on the next job or luring workers away. Let’s see: Competitive bidding could lower prices, giving taxpayers more for their money. And workers could benefit from knowing their true value.

As for verifying whether workers are truly from West Virginia, and not just conveniently set up with a hotel address, that responsibility would fall to the state Labor Department or Division of Highways. The likelihood of either being staffed or prepared to handle the tasks is doubtful.

So what better way to verify a crucial part of the West Virginia Jobs Act than to make wage and worker hometown information public, so that unbiased entities like concerned taxpayers or the media could verify the veracity of the statements?

Smith and Sypolt, and 15 other sponsors, believe government is best at verifying those facts and don’t believe the public or media have a right to the information.

We would strongly disagree and think many of the voters of West Virginia would agree with our position.

We think of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, an outspoken supporter of transparent government, when he said:

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

It is time to shine a light on the misguided premise of Senate Bill 474 and demand it dies the legislative death it deserves, if not in the Senate than at least in the House. A bill of such stature doesn’t deserve to even merit Gov. Jim Justice’s perusal.

And with elections fast approaching, we hope residents keep in mind their elected officials’ stance on transparent government and remember this sage advice, also from Brandeis:

“The most important political office is that of the private citizen.”

It’s time to hold our lawmakers in Charleston accountable.

Online: https://www.wvnews.com/theet/

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