West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Inter-Mountain of Elkins on Del. Pat McGeehan’s proposal to change West Virginia’s constitution:
Doubtless, many West Virginians will view a proposal by House of Delegates member Pat McGeehan as radical in the extreme.
Well, it is. But perhaps it is time to change some of the rules by which state government operates.
McGeehan, R-Hancock, is sponsoring a resolution calling for an amendment to the state constitution. His intent is to require that any increase in taxes or fees charged in West Virginia be approved by two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Currently, only simple majorities are needed.
“The people of West Virginia are taxed enough already, and we need to do everything we can to protect them from politicians in Charleston who want to take more of their hard-earned paychecks,” McGeehan said, in explaining his proposal.
For McGeehan’s plan to proceed, it would have to be agreed to by two-thirds majorities in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, then submitted to voters in a referendum. The constitution would be changed only if a majority of voters approve.
Well-meaning members of the Legislature may disagree with McGeehan. Requiring a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate is a high bar to reach. Given partisanship that continues to plague state politics, adoption of the proposed amendment would make it very difficult to increase taxes.
Critics of the plan will point out that, in a budget emergency, lawmakers may have no choice but to increase taxes. McGeehan’s plan could make that more difficult.
But if the emergency is real — not created by state agencies refusing to reduce spending or using political blackmail to avoid it — surely two-thirds of the Legislature’s members could be persuaded to approve a tax increase.
The bottom line on McGeehan’s proposal is this: It could not be written into the constitution without approval from voters.
The question now is whether two-thirds of our delegates and senators are willing to allow their constituents to decide the matter.
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on commitment to higher education:
West Virginia state policymakers are taking a look at retooling the way taxpayer money is funneled to the state’s colleges and universities, and the possibility they are studying targets the proper goals.
Let’s just hope in making any changes, however, that lawmakers don’t further reduce the state’s support for our higher education institutions.
In response to a mandate from the legislature, the Higher Education Policy Commission, which provides oversight of the state’s public colleges and universities, is studying moving higher education funding to a performance-based structure. Currently, funding is based on number of students.
The new proposal calls for 70 percent of funding to colleges and universities to be be based on credit hours taken, with higher-level courses and science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses given more weight, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A quarter of funding would be based on total degrees awarded. And 5 percent of funding would be tied to student success, measured by various factors, including graduation and retention rates.
As HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill told lawmakers recently, the goal for this new funding paradigm is to improve graduation rates, which are less than stellar. At some institutions, the graduation rates are in the 20-30 percent range.
As Hill pointed out, promoting more higher education for the state’s populace is crucial because less than a third of the state’s population has a two-year associate’s degree. In contrast, he said, studies project that 51 percent of all jobs in the state will require at least a two-year associate’s degree by 2020, according to the newspaper report.
So having the state’s higher education institutions focus on improving retention and graduation rates makes sense to close that skills gap, prepare students for more successful careers, and build a more attractive labor force for employers.
However, it’s paramount that any new funding formula does not become an excuse to undercut funding for colleges and universities any further.
As the state has struggled to balance its budget in recent years, among its actions has been to repeatedly reduce higher education funding. Since fiscal year 2013, all HEPC institutions have seen a 20.74 percent reduction to their base budgets; at Marshall University, that has amounted to a base budget that is now $11.5 million less than it was four years ago.
The result of those cuts is that tuition rates have gone up, making it more difficult for many prospective college students to afford to continue their educations. If the goal is to have more students attend college and obtain degrees, boosting the cost is a contrary way to promote that. Lawmakers should keep that in mind as they consider this new funding plan and determine the dollars tied to it.
The Charleston Daily Mail on promoting West Virginia:
Coca-Cola is the world’s most popular soft drink and has been, for the most part, for more than 100 years.
Many might think that with such success, Coke no longer needs to spend money on advertising. After all, it’s got the market share and the brand recognition. No need to waste company money, right?
Not so. An aggressive advertising campaign (plus popular products offered at good prices) is what makes Coca-Cola the best-selling soft drink in the world despite numerous competitors vying for the same market.
West Virginia can learn a marketing lesson or two from Coke.
This legislative session, Gov. Jim Justice has proposed to increase funding for the state Development Office from $10 million to $45 million and to increase the Division of Tourism budget from about $6 million to $20 million.
If money is available, legislators should provide it. Smart spending on tourism and development is like investing in a strong long-term growth portfolio that will bring positive returns for years to come.
We in West Virginia know our little part of the world has much to offer businesses and tourists. But for others to learn that, the state needs to get the word out and grow tourism and development. With more tourists come more business opportunities. There’s lodging, feeding and providing wonderful experiences for our guests, and also the side benefit of providing a realistic and mostly positive image of our mountains and valleys.
For every dollar spent on tourism advertising, the state yields $8 in state and local tax revenue and $106 in direct traveler spending, according to the West Virginia Tourism Office.
Tourism advertising doesn’t just promote travel to our state, but it alters negative images held by many.
A 2016 public image study by Longwoods International, commissioned by the Tourism Office, asked out-of-state residents their thoughts on West Virginia in six areas: being a good place to live, start a career, start a business, to attend college, purchase a vacation home and to retire.
The study showed that outsiders’ perceptions of West Virginia improved by an average of 18 percentage points after the residents were shown West Virginia’s tourism advertisements.
Other states spend much more on tourism and development than West Virginia, and it pays off for them. But many of those states don’t have the beauty, remoteness and character of our Mountain State. Nor do many of those other states carry the negative images often associated with West Virginia. There’s no telling how many investment dollars those mostly inaccurate negative perceptions are costing the state in terms of jobs and revenue.
As Coca-Cola Co. knows, it’s a competitive world. It’s up to us to build and maintain our image around the U.S. and world. No one will do it for us, except maybe those tourists who come and enjoy their experiences.