Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on the state's integrity:
News that West Virginia has dropped from a D-plus to a D grade in the State Integrity Investigation conducted by the Center for Public Integrity is certainly not a positive, for the Mountain State. But it is helpful to note that no state scored higher than a D-plus; and 11 received failing grades.
On a table labeled "Assessing the systems in place to deter corruption in state government," West Virginia got marks on areas ranging from public access to information, to state pension fund management. In fact, the state received a B-plus for pension fund management, a factor which may have contributed to its rising several spots to 17th in the nation, according to the investigation's rankings.
Meanwhile, West Virginia received Fs in four categories: public access to information, political financing, electoral oversight and judicial accountability.
The Center for Public Integrity attributes part of the Mountain State's drop in grade level to the decision by Secretary of State Natalie Tennant not to "press what is an unwinnable position," in her words, after a settlement in a lawsuit that arguing campaign contribution limits were unconstitutional.
"Tennant's decision unleashed a torrent of spending that transformed the state's politics and undermined what had been relatively muscular campaign finance laws," the Center for Public Integrity said.
Weak open records laws, against which we must all continue to fight, combined with the political/financial reality that swept across West Virginia last year to knock the state down a peg in the assessment. And, while it is tempting to note that dropping to a D did not stop the state from rising in the ranks - which must mean, hey, everyone else is doing it - lawmakers must not fall into such a trap.
Alaska, with a C; California, with a C-minus; and Connecticut, with a C-minus were the highest ranking states. That means, it is possible to do much better than we are, but in doing so, we will clearly be fighting against a mindset that has swallowed the whole country. West Virginia must rise above.
The Inter-Mountain of Elkins on computers in the classroom:
Surely West Virginians have learned technology, especially when the government is involved, is not the answer to all our problems. That needs to be kept firmly in mind before we boot up a program suggested by state school Superintendent Michael Martirano.
His idea amounts to this: Computers good. Textbooks bad. Especially to the growing population of Mountain State residents who cut their teeth on the digital age, it may sound like common sense.
During the West Virginia Education Summit this week in Charleston, Martirano said he wants all public school students to have access to laptop computers, tablets or similar devices. Those in grades 3-12 could take them home from school. Younger children would have to work with the equipment while in class.
One way to raise the money for that could be to stop buying textbooks for schools, the superintendent suggested. "Why would we invest all of our money into a textbook that is gonna be obsolete, that has to be replaced in future years, as opposed to looking at an online delivery model, a device, a tablet, whatever it is, that constantly has the latest information at the fingertips of our teachers and children?" he asked.
Obviously, it would be great if every public school student had some type of computer and access to the Internet, both in class and at home. That should go without saying. Online resources are wonderful - increasingly indispensable - supplements to other learning tools, such as textbooks.
But what about cost? Simply to buy the cheapest Chromebook available for every student in Mountain State public schools would cost $48 million. It would be easy to spend twice that.
And the initial purchase is just part of the expense, as Hundred High School students and educators found out several years ago when they were part of an experiment in equipping everyone with laptop computers. It failed dismally after just a few years. The equipment, subjected to hard use, broke down and could not be replaced.
Despite what Martirano said, electronic devices tend to become obsolete as least as quickly as books. And it is far easier to damage a laptop beyond repair than to destroy a book.
What about ensuring every educator knows how to teach to children equipped with computers?
What about students who do not have access to the Internet at home? How would that hurdle - and it is a very tall, important one - be overcome?
Too often, people who ask questions such as these are labeled Luddites - or, worse, cheapskates unwilling to invest in children.
But they are concerns - potentially very expensive ones - that need to be answered honestly. Computers are no more a quick fix for schools than books were several hundred years ago when mass production of them began.
The Times West Virginian of Fairmont on fixing roads:
The Congress is poised to do something it has not done in seven years; pass a comprehensive long-term highway funding bill.
The U.S. House voted 363-64 Thursday — with all three members of the West Virginia delegation voting for it — to pass the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015.
The bill still must go to a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences. According to The Hill, the Senate version authorizes six years of funding, but only pays for three, while the House version also authorizes six years, but only if the final three years are paid for.
It appears a higher gas tax will not be part of the solution. House Republican leaders rejected a move by Democrat lawmakers to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal tax by another 15 cents. The federal gas tax was last raised 21 years ago (from 14 cents to 18.4 cents), but according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation, inflation has actually reduced the buying power of the gas tax by one-third over that period. (Diesel is taxed at 24.4 cents per gallon.)
Without a gas tax increase, Congress will likely have to resort to budgetary tricks to meet the full six-year funding. However, you won't hear state leaders or motorists complain because they'll be happy to finally have a steady stream of money for the roads.
The bill authorizes spending up to $340 billion over six years. That's a lot of money, but it goes fast. For example, $55 billion goes toward mass transit, and the road and bridge building money is divided among all 50 states.
West Virginia typically gets more than we pay in. According to the office of Representative Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., while the state has just 0.6 percent of the U.S. population, it generally receives over $400 million of the approximately $40 billion that is typically allocated each year from the highway trust fund.
Lord knows we can use it. Nearly one-third of the over 10,000 miles of West Virginia roads that are eligible for federal funds (West Virginia has a total of 38,750 miles of roads) are rated "not acceptable" and in need of major repairs or replacement. Additionally, 1,541 of the state's 7,187 bridges are rated functionally obsolete and another 960 are structurally deficient.
Meanwhile, Gov. Tomblin and lawmakers are under public pressure to fix the roads. The governor put another $82 million toward road repairs this year, bringing total spending to more than $300 million, the most ever.
"This was an aggressive effort, but we all know there's still much to be done," Tomblin said last August. "But let me be clear. Regardless of any additional funding or appropriations that we make, all states, including ours, count on federal funds to assist with both new construction and road maintenance."
Well, now Washington is on the verge of holding up its end of the bargain, so the pressure is back on Gov. Tomblin and lawmakers to do their part next legislative session for the roads.