Parkersburg News and Sentinel. November 22, 2022.
Editorial: Dead Last: West Virginia lawmakers must focus on boosting state
Were it not for Mississippi, West Virginia would be the bottom of the barrel in most studies ranking states, in a variety of categories. Recently, Mississippi served as our barrier to being dead last when it comes to lowest average household incomes.
Median household income here is $65,332, according to data compiled by NiceRx. Our poverty rate is 17.1%. For purposes of the NiceRx study, those and other factors gave the Mountain State a “happiness score” of 1.66, ranking us 47th overall.
Meanwhile, the folks at WalletHub looked at another indicator of economic struggle — credit scores. In its look at the states with highest and lowest credit scores, West Virginia ranked 43rd, with an average credit score of 676. (Minnesota was highest, at 724.)
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country in 2020, the most recent year for which there is complete data. During that year there were 1,330 drug overdose deaths — a rate of 81.4 per 100,000 total population. Those are the kinds of tragedies born out of the economic struggle and hopelessness of our putrid personal economic figures.
On Jan. 11, those we elected to represent us in the state legislature will gather in Charleston for the regular session. Their priorities should be clear, given the numbers above. The socio-cultural crusades that send young people fleeing from our state and keep potential employers at bay must not be revived.
Our lawmakers have a duty to support schools teaching students more, not less. Students should be prepared for a vibrant, diverse economy, not an economy that hasn’t existed here for decades. Potential employers must know they will be welcomed, and encouraged to create good jobs in a state that embraces new families and does right by those who have called it home for generations.
Safe, adequate infrastructure is essential — forget about just Roads to Prosperity, how about broadband and safe drinking water for all?
We have so much potential here. We need not settle for dead last. It’s not who we are. But come January, we’ll get nowhere unless lawmakers get out of their own way and remember why we sent them to Charleston in the first place.
The Intelligencer. November 21, 2022.
Editorial: Governor, GOP Spar Over DHHR
It appears the first front in the post-Amendment 2 war between Gov. Jim Justice and the Republican super-duper-majority in the West Virginia Legislature will be over how to reform the systemic issues that have plagued the Department of Health and Human Resources since its inception in 1989.
It’s apparent that Republican legislative leaders find the $1-million, 120-day review of DHHR by the McChrystal Group – founded by a former general Stanley McChrystal who managed the war in Afghanistan during the early part of former President Barack Obama’s first term – did not meet their expectations.
In short, the report recommends fairly modest changes to DHHR, including adding three new deputy secretaries, integration teams to coordinate communication between bureaus, and other minor tweaks. As you can see from a story I wrote this weekend, it’s not terribly different from changes a previous DHHR cabinet secretary recommended in 2014 in response to another DHHR top-to-bottom review.
Lawmakers also recognized the similarities and were not happy that taxpayers paid $1 million for, in essence, a copy-and-paste job. The 2013 DHHR study by Public Works, a Pennsylvania-based group, only cost about $300,000, took place over a longer period than 17 weeks, and had more than 70-plus recommendations (including dividing up the duties of DHHR into two separate agencies, similar to a bill Justice vetoed earlier this year that would have split DHHR into two).
A few months ago, I was told by a member of legislative leadership that House Bill 4020 would likely return early in the upcoming legislative session in January, so that if Justice vetoes it again, the Legislature can easily override the veto. I also know that former DHHR deputy secretary Jeremiah Samples, now employed by the Legislature, is helping lawmakers identify metaphorically where all the bodies are buried at DHHR.
Expect to see lawmakers really dive into DHHR’s $7.5 billion budget. There is going to be more scrutiny of where dollars are going and if the state is getting the best bang for its buck. Expect lawmakers to privatize some DHHR operations, such as spinning off the state-operated hospitals.
A recent report by West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Amelia Knisely uncovered some shocking issues at William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital. It’s not the first time DHHR has taken flack for issues at its hospitals. Some lawmakers believe it is time for DHHR to stick with regulating hospitals instead of running hospitals.
Justice blew off lawmaker concerns about the DHHR report as sour grapes of the defeat of Amendment 2 and the other constitutional amendments. Perhaps, but as I said last week, Justice’s victory on Amendment 2 was a short-term one. Long-term, lawmakers are going to flex their new-found super-duper-majority power.
Not content to wait for the November election to be certified, U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney is running for the 2024 U.S. Senate Republican primary to challenge U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
I don’t know if I have ever seen someone jump into election for another office less than a week after winning re-election for their current seat. I have certainly seen people run early, such as WV Can’t Wait’s Stephen Smith for Governor in 2020 (he filed in 2018) and Chris Miller for governor in 2024 (he filed nearly a year ago). But neither hold an elected office.
Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey put out a six-page letter saying he plans to run for something but isn’t ready to say yet. Most likely he’ll file for U.S. Senate or governor. One member of the Board of Public Works could file for another office as soon as March. Another member of the Board of Public works … well, you’ll just have to check back later today.
There will be a lot of re-shuffling of the deck chairs, opening up some seats on the Board of Public Works for brand new candidates. Depending on who the state Democratic Party has on deck, it could even mean a chance for Democrats to take back some seats there.
Returning to the topic of education, the Department of Education released a snapshot of data for the current 2022-2023 school year:
(asterisk) There are 250,049 students in the school system, down slightly from 250,899 students last school year. There are 60 students enrolled in the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the blind, and 1,248 students enrolled in the state’s two brick-and-mortar and two statewide virtual charter schools.
(asterisk) There are 23,131 professional educators in the state between teachers and administrators. There are 1,544 non-certified teachers. There are 14,122 service personnel.
(asterisk) The net basic state aid per pupil is $4,725.