WV Senate President Cole says Legislature Made Substantive Progress in 2015

BIC Chairman Chris Hamilton addresses the crowd in Bridgeport
BIC Chairman Chris Hamilton addresses the crowd in Bridgeport

BRIDGEPORT — “The Legislature made substantive and impactful progress in the 2015 legislative session and work has begun in earnest on our 2016 agenda,” said Senate President and Lieutenant Governor Bill Cole in his opening remarks during BIC’s fourth regional business forum Thursday at the Bridgeport Conference Center in Bridgeport, WV. Nearly 60 business and policy leaders from north central West Virginia and across the state participated.

“The legal reforms passed during the last session are starting to bear fruit,” Cole said.

Senate President Bill Cole talks about the 2015 Legislative session and plans for the 2016 session during the meeting at Bridgeport.
Senate President Bill Cole talks about the 2015 Legislative session and plans for the 2016 session during the meeting at Bridgeport.

He referenced that a major insurance company doing business in the state has informed him that they will be announcing a rate reduction on auto insurance by nearly 6 percent in the near future. “That is just one tangible example of your legislature getting results.”

“We’re going to continue to move the needle for West Virginia and we’re going to do it in a big way in 2016,” Cole stated.  “We’re going to take on the hard issues, many of which may have been taboo in the past, but which will make us competitive and bring us in line with other states.” Cole cited Right To Work and Prevailing Wage as policy initiatives the legislature will be considering.

“We’ve got to make changes now,” Cole said. “West Virginia is one of the only states in the country to see a population decrease and we’ve got to reverse that trend.  To do that, we need to double down on the things that are working and stop doing the things keeping us at the top of the “bad” lists.

Cole noted his appreciation for BIC’s role in promoting the policies, as well as the political candidates, that West Virginia needs to move the state forward.

Chris Hamilton, Chairman of BIC, framed the challenges facing West Virginia and BIC’s role in spearheading positive change.

“It is all of our duty here today to support those tackling the hard issues and to elect candidates that will continue this trend into the future,” Hamilton stated.

The event featured a variety of speakers, covering various issues.

Eugenie Taylor with the WV Chamber of Commerce outlined the need for passing public charter school legislation.  “For those with resources in West Virginia, they have the option of sending their children to private schools which they may feel provide their children with the support they need to thrive,” Taylor said. “However, for the majority of West Virginians without such means, they have no alternative to public schools.”

“This is in no way an effort to replace public schools,” Taylor said.  “It is, however, one more tool that can help move West Virginia forward.”  Echoing WVU President Gordon Gee’s comments during the WV Chamber’s recent Business Summit, Taylor said, “West Virginia doesn’t have time for incrementalism.  We need all the tools in the toolbox to be available to us now.”

Taylor said the Chamber is working to build a coalition of public charter school supporters and encouraged those in attendance to contact her should they like to participate.

Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt outlined the challenges he and his committee face in working to improve West Virginia’s education system.  “The West Virginia code includes more than 700 pages dealing with education,” Sypolt said. “My goal is to review and simplify the code to create a more student-centered education system.”

Brian Hoylman, Executive Director of the Associated Builders & Contracts, presented on the movement to enact a Workforce Freedom – or Right To Work – law in West Virginia.  “An employee shouldn’t be forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of their employment.”

Hoylman cited a MetroNews poll announced on Labor Day which found that 60 percent of West Virginia voters would support a Right To Work law.  “Interestingly,” Hoylman noted, “only 30 percent of those polled were republicans, which shows the broad based support this initiative has.”

Delegates Amy Summers and Terry Waxman outlined their desire to improve West Virginia’s healthcare and welfare systems and to implement solutions addressing substance abuse.

Corky DeMarco, President of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association, provided an overview on the immense natural gas resources under the ground in our region.  “West Virginia and our region will overtake Saudi Arabia in terms of oil and gas production when it’s all said and done,” DeMarco stated. “We need the legislature to take steps to assure production continues and that we maximize the downstream opportunities available for economic growth.”

Chris Hamilton outlined the challenges facing West Virginia’s coal industry and the ongoing impact of President Obama’s war on coal.  “We’ve lost approximately 6,000 mining jobs in West Virginia over the past several years and a quarter of our production.  While that is devastating to working families and our economy, we hope that the trend has begun to level off.  Coal will continue to provide a significant portion of America’s electricity into the future.”

Delegate Paul Espinosa, Kathy Wagner, President of the Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, and Barbara DeMary, Executive Director of the Region 6 Workforce Investment Board, outlined the economic development challenges and opportunities facing north central West Virginia and the region.

“The two greatest challenges facing north central West Virginia right now are 1) retaining the businesses we have here today, and 2) finding workers for jobs both now and in the future,” said Wagner.

DeMary informed the group that there are a lot of people unemployed and in need of training in the region.  She outlined a federal program that will incent food stamp beneficiaries in the Monongalia, Harrison and Marion County region to begin job training programs or lose their food stamp benefits.

The next BIC regional forum will take place in Vienna on Oct. 8.

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Scraps from the Table: Obama’s Plan an Insult to West Virginia’s Coal Mining Families

By Bill Raney, president
West Virginia Coal Association
Let’s say you are walking on the street and a man comes along, pulls out a gun and steals your

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Bill Raney

wallet, all your money and credit cards, your watch and your wedding ring. He starts to walk away, but turns around and hands you back a five dollar bill and says he didn’t “want to leave you with nothing.”
Would that change your opinion of the man? Of course not, he’s a thief and it was YOUR money to begin with. The only reason he gave you back any of the money was to placate his own guilt.
The Charleston Gazette suggests that we should be grateful to someone who has, for more than six years, systematically done everything possible to destroy America’s coal industry, our coal miners’ jobs and families as well as the counties and communities that rely on us mining coal, all because he now wants to toss a few dollars back to his victim. This is simply guilt money and the most damaging type of hypocrisy.
While I am happy that the Gazette has finally acknowledged the pain the Obama War on Coal has caused the coalfields communities, their endorsement of Obama’s “plan” is little more than the words of a co-conspirator in the mugging trying to absolve their own guilt.
Now, we should do everything we can to take the money because the people of the coalfields ARE hurting and we want to do whatever we can to help, but it’s important to put and keep this Obama “payoff” into perspective.
According to the Gazette, The White House 2016 budget contains a “Power Plus Plan” that would:
• Provide $200 million per year for five years to clean up abandoned strip mines, which could create multitudes of jobs for laid-off miners;
• Provide $5 million for “brownfields” work cleaning up pollution at coal-fired power plants.
• Provide $20 million to retrain ex-miners and help them find new jobs;
• Provide $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission for efforts to create new businesses and upgrade water, sewer and telecommunications infrastructure;
• Provide $6 million more for “place-based regional innovation efforts” to spur jobs in distressed coal communities; and,
• Award $3.9 billion over a decade to shore up pensions and medical care of retired miners.
So how much of this “Obama payoff” can West Virginia realistically be expected to get?
In all likelihood it would be a small fraction of the total package – on the order of a few million dollars if you set aside the $3.9 billion that would be used to provide for miner and retiree pensions. Never mind that every dime of this money came from the coalfields to begin with — paid into the AML Fund by companies as a portion of their sale price of coal. So we are going to get back a small portion of the money we paid all these years?
By my calculation that is $256 million for the first year and $200 million in the subsequent four years in temporary aid for all the coal-producing states! In addition, $3.9 billion will be parsed out over ten years to “shore up” pensions and medical care for retired miners. Now it is important to say we applaud the effort to make sure mine retirees and their surviving spouses are provided for. It’s also important to say those pensions would likely not be in trouble today were it not for the actions of this administration. In fact, we have warned for the past seven years that this was coming, but neither the Obama Administration nor their supporters in the media would listen. I don’t think they ever considered or contemplated the far reaching negative impacts of their orders and behavior because reduced production brings reduced payments to these funds and no one should every be denied their pensions they‘ve worked their whole life to earn!
It is also important to understand that is not all of the remaining $256 million in temporary aid is directed to West Virginia or even Appalachia (as apparently the Gazette would have us believe). This would be spread out across all the “coalfields” of the United States – all 20+ states and I am sure some would also find its way to the “coalfields” of Chicago and Los Angeles since they use electricity!
To put that into clear perspective, the coal industry has historically provided about $3.4 BILLION EACH YEAR in wages in West Virginia alone and $26 BILLION EACH YEAR to the state’s gross state product. Obama has attempted to systematically strip us of that economic base.
The Gazette would have you believe the decline in the coal industry is “attributable to a flood of cheap natural gas, to depletion of good Appalachian coal seams, high company debt and the fall of coal prices,” but this is neither the whole nor accurate story. We could have wrestled with each of these factors in a free market of competition, but when our own government has it’s “foot on our throat”, picking winners and losers through the Obama assault on coal and its use, each of these factors are accentuated through the uncertainty that it has perpetrated.
The coal seams of Appalachia (West Virginia) are not in significant decline. In fact, underground productivity is at near record highs. Our overall productivity, however, has declined due to the reduced use of highly productive surface mining. Falling coal prices are directly attributable to the war on coal and the push to move the electric generation to less use of coal by the forced closure of much of the nation’s coal-fired power generation fleet. This so-called “cheap” natural gas is actually 31% MORE expensive on a per million Btu basis than West Virginia coal and is still below its market breakeven price even at this price level. And company debt is the direct result of these factors making it difficult if not impossible for some of these companies to compete.
Now the Gazette and other media outlets have been at the forefront of aiding this assault on America’s mining families, perhaps not realizing the long-term damage it would do to people. Today, rather than accept the responsibility for the policies that are threatening the futures of so many, the Gazette and others are trying to cast the Obama mugging of Appalachia as a “gift to help us overcome our economic problems.”
If you really want to help West Virginians, and Kentuckians, and southwestern Virginians, and all the others across the coalfields of this country, you wouldn’t just throw us some table scraps, you would get out of the way and help us put our miners back to work.