West Virginia editorial roundup
Posted May 17
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette on state legislature Republicans' role in drafting a budget:
Republicans in the Legislature seem determined to hobble state government, making West Virginia a degraded, inadequate, poverty-level basket case. They refuse to raise any revenue to make the state functional or provide basic human services.
Republicans everywhere try to reduce taxes paid by the wealthy — and that's apparently the reason for stonewalling by lawmakers. Republican newspapers around the state hammer the "no new taxes" mantra, as if they don't care how badly the state sinks.
Seven weeks remain until the new fiscal year begins July 1. If the stalled Legislature can't draft a workable budget by then, state government could be forced into a partial shutdown.
Statehouse correspondent Phil Kabler noted that, if tens of thousands of state employees are laid off, they can't collect unemployment benefits because the benefit-paying agency, Work Force West Virginia, also will be closed.
Past Legislatures, with plenty of Democratic support, slashed about $300 million in business taxes to "create jobs" — but it didn't work, and jobs decreased. Then, coal faded and natural gas prices fell, wiping out more revenue. To meet the growing crisis, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cut $600 million in state spending. Now, it's impossible to reduce government further without harming people, both individuals and communities.
But that's what Republicans tried to do in the final hours of the regular 2017 session. They passed a doomed, worthless, downsized budget that new Gov. Jim Justice was forced to veto.
In special session, the Senate almost unanimously passed a workable budget with new revenue. But House Republicans rejected it immediately, leaving the state in limbo. Now, lawmakers have gone into hibernation until Monday. When they return, will the same hopeless deadlock resume?
In the remaining weeks of May and June, some compromise must be reached to prevent a partial state shutdown. Will the outcome keep West Virginia afloat, or cripple the state? All West Virginians have a stake in this impasse.
The Daily Mail of Charleston on the founder of Western Virginia University:
One man's drive for public education and high academic standards set the tone 150 years ago for an institution that would become the flagship for higher education in West Virginia.
Rev. Alexander Martin was West Virginia University's first president. He was a hands-on president, even responsible for the name change from Agricultural College of West Virginia to West Virginia University in 1868, according to Ken Sullivan in the West Virginia Encyclopedia.
West Virginia had only been a state for four years when Martin took the helm of this fledgling institution. A more fitting choice to lead the new state's public university would be hard to fathom, as Martin knew his audience and aimed at nothing less than to bring education to this generally poor state.
Years before his being named president of what became WVU, Martin had already established himself as a leading proponent for public schools in West Virginia. He had served as principal of the Kingwood Academy in Preston County, as a teacher at Northwestern Academy in Clarksburg, and as a professor of Greek at Allegheny College. Martin had sufficient experience to develop ideas for a system of free schools across West Virginia.
Shortly after West Virginia achieved statehood in 1863, Martin was asked by the new Legislature to draft "An Outline of a System of General Education for the New State."
In this paper, Martin argued that education should be "as free as the air and the light of Heaven." If ever a state needed a free public school system, West Virginia was it. Starting in the later decades of the 19th century, the children of hardscrabble farmers, lumberjacks and miners simply could not have been educated otherwise.
Having laid the groundwork for a statewide public school system, Martin turned to the task of developing a credible state university. As with the public school system he helped to develop, this new state university would be built on lean budgets.
Nevertheless, during Martin's tenure, two of the historic core of buildings at what is now Woodburn Circle were built. What is now Woodburn Hall, with its magnificent clock tower, and Martin Hall, named for the good reverend, still stand and house liberal arts and journalism classes.
Rev. Martin had a heart for the people of West Virginia and a mind for top-flight academics at WVU. His insistence on discipline and high standards and his support for a then-new idea called "co-education" led to his departure from WVU in 1875.
Martin had no problem finding work and was soon after offered the presidency at what became the nationally renowned DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he worked 14 years. He died in Greencastle at age 71 in 1893.
Every now and then, the right person comes along at the right time to help important ventures take flight. What Rev. Alexander Martin started in 1867 has offered now many generations of West Virginia families a chance for their youth to develop into empowered servant leaders in scores of fields and careers.
Few institutions have the opportunity WVU and our other state higher education institutions have to help families make a quantum leap forward.
As WVU looks back on 150 years of student and faculty accomplishments this year, we look forward to the innovations that the academic community will create in the next 150 years.
The Register Herald of Beckley on the plan for education in the state budget:
In the coming days of the special legislative session in Charleston, convening - once again - to address a budget for the state this coming fiscal year, political leaders will hit upon a compromise that will measure the relative value of budget cuts and tax increases.
No matter the compromise, it should be seen as a new start at an honest attempt to fix all that ails our struggling state. But as we all know, there is no such thing as a quick fix. And then, how does that lead to the next step in a very long process?
It all seems so critical no matter what piece of the argument you subscribe to - from jobs to drug addiction, from the condition of our roads to the delivery of health care services as offered by the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Gov. Jim Justice exaggerates our collective condition by saying West Virginia is 50th in every last ranking that matters. Well, that's just not so, but from where we sit, you can see the bottom without craning your neck too far.
So the questions for our legislative leaders, from the left and the right, from the House to the Senate to the governor's office, are this: where to begin? And what follows?
Or, as Justice likes to say, "What's the plan?"
If we were to consider the state as a patient in need of care, as the governor has on occasion, and our political leaders as attending physicians, we might first encourage them all to take the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm.
We do not believe that the state can continue to cut away the cancers that are slowly consuming the health and welfare of our state's residents. Cutting is not a cure - but only a temporary fix.
The state needs investments in its people and that will not come without some pain - higher taxes, in one form or another, for all.
We are most concerned with education in this state, from preschool on to K-12 and all the way up to the hallowed halls of higher education on state-supported campuses.
But the only debate in Charleston regarding educational matters is whether we can cut funding or give a 2 percent pay raise for teachers. Perhaps a bit of both. Regardless, be not fooled. There is no semblance of a plan in either approach.
We are not Pollyannas. The best that education can do in next year's budget is to avoid any additional cuts. But in truth, we need an overhaul of our educational system that examines the following:
? A reorganization of K-12 school districts away from the 19th century map where every county constitutes a district.
We believe funding 55 districts for this largely rural state is a bridge too far. Currently, we suffer from and waste valuable resources on duplicative services and excess administrative salaries.
? In restructuring the administration of education across the state, we could also address how to keep small community schools in place or develop a plan for consolidation of services that makes sense geographically. That's a big one that is being played out - to no one's satisfaction - across the state. No kid should be stuck on a bus for an inordinate amount of time going to and from school - and no kid, through no fault of his or her own, should be offered anything less in a classroom based on where he or she was born.
? Teacher pay and benefits need a boost, encouraging our home-grown talent to stay put - as many have said they would like to do but have been lured by more attractive salaries and educational environments across state lines.
We appreciate the governor wanting to bump teacher pay, but at a time when schools are losing population and revenue is falling at the county level, schools are being forced to cut teacher positions. In that environment, any teacher pay hike is false hope - not a long-term remedy.
? At the very least, the state's colleges and universities need to keep tuition flat. Rising tuition is putting a college education into a box that only the well-to-do can afford to purchase. Our goal as a state should be to make higher education, either at four-year colleges or at community colleges, affordable for anyone who has done the work in high school and now wants to take the next step.
To say the least, we need to improve our state's "human capital," and that begins with an educated workforce.
We think it is central to any plan to get this state out of the economic ditch.
So, we are left to ask, what's the plan for education?