Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Manchin Receives CATO Recognition

Governor Joe Manchin breaks ideological boundaries when it comes to fiscal policy. Each year, the conservative- leaning CATO Institute grades governors and measures them according to successes in tax cuts, budget restraint, and degree of spending growth. In its most recent rankings, Governor Manchin was the only Democrat to receive an ‘A,’ and one of only a few Democrats to receive favorable ratings at all. Chris Edwards, director of tax-policy studies at CATO, had this to say about him:

“Democrat Joe Manchin has enacted probably the most pro-growth tax reforms of any governor.”

Joe Manchin has led a fiscally responsible administration that has overcome serious budgetary issues since taking office,
and his brand of politics is a unique balance that fits West Virginia very well. The point of this discovery is not to question political motivations of CATO or West Virginia. However, a broad look at our current Governor highlights a combination of four aspects that positioned his administration to achieve such CATO supported recognition: progressive policies, building from a broken system, strong Conservatism in West Virginia, and personal business practices.

Governor Manchin believes in progressive fiscal policies that can help West Virginia’s economic climate, perhaps given substantial flexibility with strong approval ratings. In 1999 Governor Underwood initiated the Commission on Fair Taxation, which proposed ground-breaking reforms for fairer, more appropriate taxation. Through the Wise administration, these recommendations gained little traction from the Executive and Legislative branches - until Governor Manchin took office in 2004 and deviated from this trend by establishing the 2005 Tax Modernization Project.

Since 2005, Governor Manchin has been a leader in bureaucratic reform. This administration has seemingly taken real action to support West Virginians like WVU Economics professor, Dr. Russell Sobel, who published “Unleashing Capitalism”. After releasing his analysis of West Virginia’s economic growth, Sobel was invited to present his case to the Governor and his cabinet. Ironically, Dr. Sobel offered this same “Unleashing Capitalism” presentation to South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford, who joins Manchin as two of the three ‘A’ ratings from CATO. Governor Manchin looks at the current system with a progressive lens, spending money responsibly while eliminating much waste and inequality. Economic reform efforts continue to prosper under this governor, including the recently appointed Independent Commission on Judicial Reform that will analyze the state’s legal system. An unbiased bench certainly contributes to economic stability.

Second, Governor Manchin has achieved such success because his administration assumed a broken fiscal policy that was loaded with potential. At the outset, West Virginia had a tangled system of worker pensions, mounting unfunded liabilities, and stale progress from the 1999 tax commission. However, with Manchin’s reversal back to responsible fiscal policies in 2005, this Governor is leading a charge that pursues a strong economic climate. Future reforms will surely deal with regressive taxes that discourage business within West Virginia, a taxation system that treats everyone fairly, and a simpler system that is easily understood and accepted. As Sobel states, more economic freedom among West Virginia residents correlates to higher per capita wages and increased business productivity.

Third, outside of Republican/ Democrat labels, West Virginia generally holds conservative values. Last election, the Charleston Daily Mail highlighted a Mark Blankenship poll that found 45% of voters described themselves as conservative. Today, Governor Manchin still holds many conservative values, and aligns with at least 45% of the state (but probably much more than that since his approval ratings exceed 50% and received 66% of the vote in 2008). With his CATO recognition, Manchin aligns with much of West Virginia when he initiates action to help small business, decrease the size of government, privatize certain industries, and create a stronger small-business climate in pursuit of truly being “open for business”. Having a strong base that supports the governor’s plans and ideals is critical to running a fiscally responsible state that looks for budget cuts instead of tax increases and deficit spending.

Last, close friends say previous business practices support many of Governor Manchin’s initiatives, such as creating a better economic climate. From the coal industry, Manchin subscribes to the “Six Sigma” style of management, a business operation that ensures product quality, and identifies defects that detract from profitability and success. Shifting to his “Open for Business” campaign, Manchin wanted to ensure that the state’s economy could support and attract business growth, enacting tax reductions alongside business incentives. Since West Virginia commerce depends on the products it sells, the entire economic and judicial climates must be stable and prosperous to attract and retain various businesses. This reliance on a quality business atmosphere led Manchin to enact several pro-growth tax reforms that receive CATO’s critical acclaim.

Here are the facts, according to the Chris Edwards at the CATO Institute. Nationally, states continue to add billions of dollars to their respective debts – West Virginia has incrementally paid down much of its unfunded liabilities. CATO research shows that state spending increases incrementally since 2004 – West Virginia spent, proportionately, 8%, less of its total revenue in FY2007 than FY2009. Unfortunately, general revenue continues to increase, along with rising government spending. Also since 2004, WORKFORCE West Virginia reports that the number of state government employees has decreased 5.4%.

While Governor Manchin’s recent recognition is a sign that West Virginia’s fiscal climate is improving, much more can be done to further correct the state’s culture of regressive business policies. Manchin has combined these four factors to bring himself and CATO to a point of agreement – that a better business climate requires less taxes and less government expansion into fiscal policy. Great strides toward a more responsible fiscal environment have corrected some previous burdens and liabilities, while setting the stage for future reform. The continuation of this administration, and those of future governors, can achieve much more to support a business friendly culture with fiscally responsible CATO criteria: tax cuts, budget restraint, and responsible spending.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Quote of the Day

“These are a bunch of immature kids who try to be important, and I don’t have time to fool with them,” he said. “I have bigger fish to fry.” - Dr. Doug McKinney, Chairman of the WVGOP, about grassroots Republicans that cite criticisms of McKinney

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Though one election cycle has just passed, candidates throughout West Virginia are positioning themselves for the 2012 gubernatorial election. While few candidates have formally filed papers with the Secretary of State, political strategists continue to toss around names of potential candidates who could actually win.

Regardless of the candidate, it is certain that the next governor will deal with critical issues that are currently in full debate. West Virginia, and this nation, is facing questions that could drastically change the legislative landscape for future generations, while literally altering the path that generations travel: healthcare debates flood Washington, Cap and Trade stands before the Senate, states continue to spend stimulus dollars throughout the nation, and consumer confidence rests upon an unstable economy.

However, it is uncertain if West Virginians will select a governor who supports, or deviates from, the current leadership on these issues. Though voter fatigue has caused few to entertain thoughts of 2012, it is worth noting the positions of current leaders in West Virginia. One of these leaders may be our next governor, and it is helpful to know how they stand on these critical issues.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It's an Image

"Republican for a Reason"- State WVGOP Director Dr. Doug McKinney often touts this iconic slogan to describe why he, and others, choose to identify themselves as Republicans. However, what is that reason?

In light of recent disagreement and turmoil within the party, reasons to identify with and support the state Republican party are often mixed with reports of bickering and financial instability. The Charleston Daily Mail recently captured the point of contention that leads to separate visions between members and leaders of the party, visions that carry deep-seeded beliefs.

Critics of McKinney point to irresponsible leadership that undermines associate leadership, approves of embarrassing "paper bag" donation solicitation, and poor financial responsibilty, specifically with the paid executive director position formerly held by Gary Abernathy. McKinney, on the other hand, believes one thing is connected to another: an executive director must be hired, to raise funds, to support and recruit candidates and initiatives, so that more funds can be raised, etc.

I think the party has the potential to support our outstanding officials already elected and support future candidates to take the state by storm. However, the party must find unity in an image to harness this potential. The recent paper bag campaign was an indicator of the financial desperation by the director, and the effects of that silly campaign have far reaching consequences. All is not lost though.

The party, with the Underwood Institute, is slated to put on an excellent Republican summit this weekend in Charleston, with outstanding leaders who will teach and inspire Republicans from all around the state.

The solution, in my opinion, to revamping the WVGOP is not in raising money, or emphasizing logistical difficulties and intra-party differences. These are critical items, and great leaders like Melody Potter have the experience to coordinate satisfactory solutions. In my opinion, support will be gathered, candidates will be slated, and unity will come from the image - an image of what the reason is to be a Republican. The image: strong defense, lower taxes, less government, social conservatism, and responsible law making.

Party members will believe in the image, and campaign on the image. Voters will identify with a unified party and apply the message when pulling the lever in precincts around West Virginia. Party leadership will thrive with a unified base that is willing and ready to support the cause.

There is great hope and opportunity for the West Virginia Republican Party, and many of its best minds are assembling upon the Charleston Embassy Suites this weekend for the Republican Summit. Hopefully participants will talk about what the Party should be, which roads we will take in the future, and how to accomplish these goals. The opportunity is there, but so is a counter-productive image of confusion and disunity. We have a great resevoir of elected politicians, leaders, supporters, and organizers within the state Republican party. I'm looking forward to what the future holds.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

West Virginia and Obesity

With the red-hot debate boiling in Washington over healthcare, and while members of Congress sift through thousands of pages of documents, one major cost that health care providers incur is related to obesity: Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance providers.

"More than $300 billion is spent a year for obesity related diseases."

Numerous studies highlight West Virginia's concentrated population of obese residents, and even Huntington has been labelled the "Fattest City in the Nation". The author of "Supersize Me," Morgan Spurlock, hails from Beckley, WV. The West Virginia Health Statistic Center of the WVDHHR illustrates West Virginia obesity rates far above the national average since 1990, by multiple percentage points. The average weight for West Virginia's males and females increased by 30 pounds, since 1984. And many suggest that low socioeconomic status is targeted areas of West Virginia correlates to high obesity patterns.

Further, CDC authorities have labelled the situation in West Virginia as an epidemic, supported by the following numbers from an online forum from the CDC:
  • 64% of West Virginia adults are obese or overweight. (CDC BRFSS, 2002)
  • 28% of non-Hispanic white adults and 37% of non-Hispanic black adults in West Virginia are obese. (CDC BRFSS, 2002)
  • 29% of West Virginia high school students are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. (CDC YRBSS, 2003)
  • 26% of low-income children between two and five years of age in West Virginia are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. (CDC PedNSS, 2002)
  • The obesity rate among West Virginia adults increased by 83% from 1990 to 2002. (CDC BRFSS, 1990, 2002)

So what is the state doing? Well, in 2006 WVU led the way creating an afterschool program to focus on kids dancing their way to better health and weight loss (based on the hit game, Dance Dance Revolution).

Also, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 414 in the May 2009 special session. Part of its motivation and mission is:

"(3) West Virginia is among the highest in such health care indicators as childhood and adult obesity which provides a direct connection to higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heart disease, pulmonary disorders and comorbid depression experienced in West Virginia. Nearly one third of the rise in health care costs can be attributed to the rise in obesity throughout the state and the nation. Additionally, high rates of chronic illness represents a substantial reduction in worker productivity."

Also, cities like Wheeling are taking the initiative locally to promote programs like "Wheeling Walks". This program has seen dramatic increases in physical activity through programming and marketing campaigns, according to in-house polling.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of initiative throughout the state. But it does give some hope for a healthier future in West Virginia, made possible by the public and private sectors from government mandates and grassroots initiatives.

West Virginia and Space Travel on the Anniversary of July 20, 1969

From the FY2010 State Budget Appedix:
Captain Jon A. McBride (1943- ) became an astronaut in August 1979 and piloted the Challenger when it was launched on October 5, 1984. He was a Republican candidate for Governor of West Virginia in 1996. McBride was born in Charleston, Kanawha County.

Quote of the Day

"Taxes cost more than they raise - whatever amount collected cannot counter balance the disincentives to spend and invest, the vast administrative overhead costs of governmental agencies, and the lack of discretionary incomes that consumers can spend."
- Dr. Eugene Steurele, Vice President of the P.G. Peterson Foundation and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Treasury, at the West Liberty University Government Policy Research Center