West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on the chairman of Mylan Pharmaceuticals:
West Virginia-born Mylan Pharmaceuticals just revealed that its chairman, Robert Coury, pocketed $164 million in 2016 — despite some public outrages against the firm. What a disgusting illustration of America’s worsening gulf between the 1 percent elite and everyone else.
In contrast, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch, daughter of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., got only $13.8 million last year, down from $18.9 million in 2015. Women often complain of being paid less than men. Perhaps she could file a gender-discrimination lawsuit.
Actually, Coury, 56, earned slightly less than $100 million, but he also got $66.3 million in retirement benefits. MarketWatch explained:
“The added sum brings Coury’s total 2016 payday to just shy of $164 million. Although no longer an employee, Coury will continue to receive $1.8 million a year as a ‘cash retainer’ as part of an agreement struck last year. He also received 1 million restricted stock units, worth about $37 million at current share prices, most of which vest in mid-2019.”
Mylan Pharmaceuticals began in 1961 at White Sulphur Springs, then moved to Morgantown in 1965, and finally settled in a Pittsburgh suburb. It pulled a slick merger trick, pretending to be a Dutch corporation, to elude U.S. taxes.
Last year, public outrage flared because Mylan jacked up prices astronomically for EpiPens, needed to save lives of people suffering deadly allergy reactions. A federal investigation forced Mylan to pay $465 million in penalties last October.
Regardless of those problems, or perhaps because of them, Mylan’s top executives are thriving, heading to be billionaires. It’s a sorry example of how America’s free-enterprise system can produce lopsided oceans of greed.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on Gov. Justice’s roads plan:
Gov. Jim Justice touts, as one of the key points of his “jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign promise, a plan to fix the state’s roads and create new jobs.
“Whatever we do, we cannot turn our back on 48,000 new jobs,” he said again Monday.
But will his plan, in which he intends for the state to sell $2.8 billion in bonds and pay them off over 30 to 40 years to fund a five-year road repair and construction frenzy, truly create the jobs he promises? And will the roads need to be fixed again before the state is finished paying off this indebtedness?
These are questions worth asking and are part of the reason why members of the House of Delegates aren’t jumping for joy at the governor’s roads plan like he thinks they and everyone else should.
The governor wants the Legislature to pass a proposal to borrow money to fix roads today and provide, as he says, 48,000 new jobs. But West Virginia companies and West Virginia’s workforce aren’t likely to be the beneficiaries of this long-term debt to be incurred by state taxpayers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia’s construction workforce is about 31,000. With a potential increase of 164 percent to the current total construction workforce, not to mention those skilled at road-building duties, construction companies would be hard-pressed to find enough qualified workers so quickly.
Yes, there are many qualified workers in West Virginia who can perform these duties now. But, if the Legislature were to approve the governor’s plan of a massive bond and instantaneous funding surge, few of the winning bids for companies would be from West Virginia.
The bids would likely be consumed by large nationally known companies. West Virginia’s road builders, in large part, are small- to medium-sized companies that typically don’t have the size or financial scale to obtain the level of bonding to bid on projects in excess of $100 million — or obtain backing from financial institutions to bid on projects that seek a public-private partnership.
In fact, the last four major highway projects financed through public-private partnerships in the Mountain State have been won by large, out-of-state contractors.
The state should not put bidding restraints on non-West Virginia companies, but it makes sense to structure road repair and new construction projects so West Virginia-based companies can compete against the bigger, better funded national entities.
However, simply borrowing billions against the future and cutting every bid loose is not the answer. A better approach would be a system that focuses on building needed projects on a pay-as-you-go basis in a manner in which West Virginia-based contractors can compete.
Rather than a few mega-projects instantaneously released, as the governor proposes, we need numerous multi-million dollar projects each year.
This would allow our state workforce to grow at a strong, steady pace at which we can prepare, train and transition West Virginians to enter it, keeping the workers employed for decades to come. Otherwise, the out-of-state workforce will leave in a few years, state taxpayers will be paying off the billions we owe in debt and our in-state workforce will still be looking for projects.
Thanks to the governor for his enthusiasm to create jobs, but to create much-needed West Virginia jobs, this proposal needs more careful thought.
Thanks to the House of Delegates for being skeptical of the governor’s idea.
The Herald Dispatch of Huntington on the state’s college-going rate:
The “college-going rate” is one of the key measures of educational improvement for West Virginia, and there is good news.
After dipping for a couple of years, the percentage of Mountain State high school graduates who enrolled in community colleges and four-year colleges increased last year. The statewide percentage is still low in comparison with other states - 55.6 percent - but at least it is heading in the right direction.
The high-water mark for West Virginia was 2009, when 62 percent of high school grads enrolled in college, but the lean years of the recession and higher tuition costs likely took their toll. The average steadily declined over the next few years, hitting 55.4 percent for the fall of 2015.
That meant almost 45 percent of the state’s graduates faced the difficult challenge of finding a living wage job with only a high-school degree. Combine that with the 20 percent of the class that dropped out before graduation, and you have almost two-thirds of the state’s young workforce lacking the skills most good jobs require today.
The situation is even more severe in many counties of southern West Virginia, where the college-going rates are even lower, according to a recent report by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and West Virginia Community and Technical College System.
Counties in the northern part of the state have the best college-going rates, led by Ohio County at 71.5 percent, Mineral County at 66.3 percent and Monongalia at 66 percent. Cabell, Wayne and Logan moved up to close to 60 percent for 2016, and Putnam was at 63 percent. But other area counties were in the 50 percent range with several in the 40-45 percent range.
No wonder, our region has so many young people who are neither working nor in school - 18 to 25 percent in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, according to a recent Measure of America study.
In his last two years, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin put a particular focus on urging high school students to pick a post-secondary education path, and Gov. Jim Justice, in his first few months, also has made education a central part of his agenda. The Higher Education Policy Commission also launched its innovative GEAR UP program to help high-schoolers see the importance of college. We hope those efforts will continue.
“These gains, while subtle, represent a solid step in the right direction,” said Dr. Paul Hill, HEPC chancellor. “Now that the economy is beginning to stabilize, we’re more confident that the small strides we’re witnessing represent genuine progress in creating a college-going culture in West Virginia - a process that takes time and occurs student by student, community by community.”
Building that “college-going culture” is critical for the Mountain State - whether the coal industry rebounds or not - and leaders, educators and families need to keep the momentum going.