As West Virginians count down to electing their next Governor, it’s important to blow holes in some myths being spun by Democrats and the state’s liberal media apparatus.
The West Virginia Legislature was able to balance the budget in time for the 2017 fiscal year, but they were not able to make us many cuts as they wanted to. With a Governor with line item veto power, combined with needing two-thirds majority to override a budget veto, the Republican majority’s hands were tied.
As a result, Charleston Gazette-Mail statehouse reporter and columnist Phil Kabler managed to make claims that lawmakers couldn’t find anything to truly cut, then go on to later prove his own claims wrong.
“During the budget impasse, some legislators talked about cutting waste, fraud and abuse out of the state budget — although in the course of a 60-day regular session, three-day extended session, and 17-day special session, they found precious little to cut out of the 2016-17 state budget, beyond the cuts imposed by the Tomblin administration.”
Of course, this is patently untrue. Lawmakers found several items of waste to cut from the fiscal year 2017 budget. Democrat Governor Earl Ray Tomblin never expanded the June special session call to add those items to the agenda. When lawmakers did try to make changes, such as to the greyhound breeder’s fund, Tomblin used his line item veto power to put the money back to where it was.
I’m sure Tomblin’s family’s greyhound breeding business is thankful.
To back up his claims, Kabler tried comparing the budgets for West Virginia and Nebraska, which shares a similar population size. It’s not exactly a fair comparison, as Nebraska has a growing population, lower unemployment, a higher workforce participation rate, and its per capita income is higher than the national average. West Virginia is very much the opposite. WV has seen employment decline over three years, the lowest workforce participation rate in the nation, and our per capita income will grow at a rate below the national average.
Yet, Kabler did come across some date that proves his one thesis wrong.
“The Nebraska governor has 18 employees, the West Virginia governor was budgeted for 60. (Remember, this is 2014 data, and several positions have been eliminated since then because of spending cuts.)The Nebraska secretary of state has 41 employees; West Virginia secretary of state, 59; Nebraska attorney general, 127 employees, West Virginia attorney general, 212.
Nebraska agriculture commissioner, 149 employees; West Virginia ag(sic) commissioner, 348. (In fairness, Nebraska does have a variety of agricultural boards and commissions with full-time staff.)
Meanwhile, the Nebraska auditor and treasurer each have 46 employees. The West Virginia auditor has 196, the West Virginia treasurer has 133.”
So Nebraska, a state with a similar population, has a smaller state government than West Virginia, a state with shrinking population, does.
Tomblin has been praised for his mid-year four percent budget cut and for cutting the 2017 budget by more than $30 million. Yet, as Editor Mike Myer with the Wheeling Intelligencer discovered, those budget cuts are all smoke and mirrors.
Even before the fiscal year ended, the Division of Forestry announced it would lay off 37 foresters. They’re the people you see when you’re out in the woods. Not one layoff at the division office in Charleston was on the agenda (that plan was put on hold, but it may be back).
Meanwhile, at the Division of Health, state aid for local health departments has been slashed by about 25 percent. They will have to make do with about $4 million less than they were budgeted for last year. Support for free clinics such as Wheeling Health Right also was cut by $250,000 (about 9 percent).
How about the personal services and employee benefits line in the health department’s budget? That covers central office people. It’s up slightly from last year’s budget, at $12,142,743 (for FY 2016, it was $12,097,139).
One irony out of the health agency’s budget: Last year, $4,870,309 was earmarked for a tobacco education program. This year — after $100 million in new taxes were levied on tobacco products — the appropriation is just $3,037,643.
Click that link and keep reading. It only gets worse.
As for other waste, fraud, and abuse, where do we start?
I don’t know if Kabler reads his own paper, but Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre in Sunday’s paper detailed more drama coming out of the state’s Water Development Authority.
“A small state agency that finances water projects in West Virginia is spending up to $200,000 a year for temporary workers and providing them with perks like paid holidays, sick leave and the use of state-owned vehicles — benefits normally afforded only to full-time state employees…”
This same agency paid the salary of a board member who hasn’t shown up in over six years. The same agency’s head spent time looking for bugs in the office building. The same agency hired the former Boone County Ambulance Authority director, a guy who gave himself a $103,000 loan from the ambulance authority to pad his pension in violation of the state Ethics Act.
That’s just one agency, right? This kind of nonsense isn’t wide spread, right? Think again.
- A legislative audit found that the Department of Transportation paid a quarter of a million dollars in comp time to employees who should have never qualified for comp time in the first place.
- The State Auditor’s Office set up a new bi-weekly pay system for state employees that will create an instant $22.5 million unfunded liability Consolidated Public Retirement Board and violate state law.
- The state Department of Education shorted 36 counties more than $50 million over five years, while other counties were overpaid. The DOE has no intentions of writing this wrong.
- The state would save $8 million if it would quit subsidizing a non-profit’s roadside assistance program that pays its upper management six-digit salaries.
- The state Department of Agriculture had a $5 million revolving loan program that was accused of being mismanaged.
Take Jimmy Gianato, director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, for example. He was appointed by former Democrat Governor Joe Manchin, and like most Manchin appointees he kept his job even after Earl Ray Tomblin replaced Manchin.
Gianato wasted $24 million in federal stimulus dollars after purchasing thousands of overpowered internet routers from Cisco. They were warned these routers were way too much for the state’s schools and libraries could handle. Some libraries couldn’t even afford to install them. Around the same time Gianato used $10 million of federal stimulus to finance the construction of microwave towers. Both were no-bid contracts, and Gianato’s emergency communications director Joe Gonzalez had connection to the tower construction firm.
Did Gianato get fired? Prosecuted? Even reprimanded? Nope, he still has the same job, same title. Heck, even Gianato’s son got a piece of the action.
And where do we start when it comes to the Division of Highways? Let’s start with former DOH supervisor Robert Glen Andrew, who was facing a 29-count federal racketeering indictment for using state resources, personnel, and equipment for political purposes, as well as bid rigging, witness tampering, document tampering, etc. Most notably, be was responsible for the semi-truck trailer beds you’d see on the interstate with candidate banners. They were most recognizable during Governor Tomblin’s 2011 campaign. Andrew was found dead shortly after the indictment came down.
The chairman of the state Democratic Party at the time, Larry Puccio, was also in hot water with the feds for contracts between the DOH and his real estate company, Puccio & York. Puccio was Manchin’s chief of staff when he was Secretary of State and later Governor. Now he is chairing the campaign for Democrat candidate for Governor Jim Justice. Puccio is also a lobbyist for The Greenbrier. In 2014, Puccio helped push through a 10-year $25 million tax credit for various Greenbrier projects on the next to last day of the 60-day regular legislative session. The state already pays over $1 million per year to woo business leaders at The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament each year (except this year since we’re in a budget crunch, plus the flooding damaged the grounds and caused the Classic’s cancelation).
Joe Manchin served seven years as Governor. Tomblin served five years and maintained Manchin’s legacy of waste, fraud, and abuse. Jim Justice would be another proxy for Manchin and continue the good old boy system.
If West Virginia has any hope of prospering, it has to shake off the Manchin parasitic system.