WatchBlog: Some praise and some criticism of Gov. Tomblin
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By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog
CHARLESTON — Another week has gone by, inching us closer to the halfway mark of the West Virginia Legislature’s 2012 general session. Feb. 9 will be the 30 day mark of the 60-day session.
As of today 1,608 bills have been introduced between the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Only the natural gas cracker bill has completed it’s path, ending with the signature of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week. Only 20 bills have passed the House, while 21 bills have passed the Senate.
One of the bills that passed the Senate was Gov. Tomblin’s fix for the state’s $5.3 billion other post-employment debt, or OPEB, largely due to health care for retired public workers and teachers.
“SB469 would dedicate $30 million annually to the West Virginia Retiree Health Benefit Trust Fund, transferring $5 million each month to pay off the state’s $5 billion other post-employment benefit (OPEB) debt by 2036. Another $5 million annually would be transferred into a trust fund for public workers hired after July 1, 2010.“
I certainly applaud this legislation and await its passage in the House. Between the Public Employees Insurance Agency capping the liability for retiree subsidies and the Governor’s bill, we’ll be on our way to retiring another massive debt, much like we’re doing with the Workers’ Compensation fund.
I’ve been more than a little annoyed by the Republican response to the Governor’s OPEB bill. I get that we have an election again in November and a likely rematch between Tomblin and Republican businessman Bill Maloney. However, tackling this debt is a good thing, and no new taxes and fees are being used to do it.
One Democrat, state Sen. Herb Snyder (D-Jefferson) called the bill “monumental.” One Republican took issue with that phrase, believing that the phrase was used in the hopes of being picked up as a soundbite.
First of all, a politician trying to be quotable isn’t exactly surprising. Secondly, it IS monumental. That same Republican said it wasn’t monumental, but necessary. He is absolutely right, but no other state is tackling OPEB; not even states led by Republican governors. I believe if Tombin was a Republican and proposed this legislation we wouldn’t be hearing any of this moaning.
If Republicans want to criticize Tomblin for something, it’s being silent on the recent scandal that came out of Lincoln County this week.
“The U.S. Attorney’s office announced today that Lincoln County Sheriff Jerry Bowman, 58, and Lincoln County Clerk Donald C. Whitten, 62, will plead guilty to felonies after the U.S. Attorney’s office and the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office launched an investigation two years ago.
“I do not allow the integrity of our election process to be compromised,” said Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. “I do not tolerate election law violations by anyone, regardless of party or position.”
Bowman admitted to falsifying over 100 absentee ballots during the 2010 primary for voters who couldn’t legally vote absentee. Later, Bowman was illegally in the same room with voters as they marked their absentee ballots and sometimes marked the ballots himself. Bowman was term-limited as sheriff an was running for circuit clerk. Bowman faces 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Whitten admitted to making a false statement after lying to federal investigators about his roll in the conspiracy. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Both Democrats agreed to resign from office and never seek office again.“
Between this and former Lincoln County Assessor Jerry Weaver running for Lincoln County Sheriff despite being convicted for vote buying, it shows that we really need election law reform. One Democrat, state Sen. Corey Palumbo (D-Kanawha), is proposing to fix the loophole that allows felons, such as Weaver, to run for office. House Republicans are working on a Voter ID law.
Not only has Tomblin not spoken out on this or encouraged a change in laws, the state’s Democratic Party chairman won’t even say it’s wrong for a felon convicted of voter fraud being on the ballot. Larry Puccio, on West Virginia Metronews Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval this morning, said it was up to the voters.
“For me to try to tell a voter what to do is wrong,” Puccio said. “I never tell a voter what to do.”
I agree with Puccio, it should be up to the voters. The problem with that, though, is in Lincoln County the voters have someone looking over their shoulder. Sheriff Bowman went to people’s homes, watched them fill out their absentee ballots, and even filled out the ballots himself. The voters of Lincoln County have been intimidated, so of course they’re going to vote for these crooks and felons.
Worse than that, Puccio laid the blame for Weaver being allowed to run on Republican lawyers and former President George W. Bush’s Justice Department. Puccio said they should have included in Weaver’s sentencing a provision where he agreed not to seek office again. But how well did that work for Joe C. Ferrell?
The former delegate pleaded guilty to vote buying in 1992 and agreed not to seek office again. Then ran again for House of Delegates in 2000, serving until 2006. He later pleaded guilty to racketeering and tax evasion charges involving his company Southern Amusements.
As a side note, Ferrell bought Southern Amusement from Gov. Tomblin in 1995. And Tomblin’s own father, former Logan County Sheriff Earl Tomblin, was a member of the “Logan Five;” five elected officials convicted of election rigging in the 1970s. Later, in 1992, Earl pleaded guilty to bribery related to the election of former Logan County Sheriff Oval Adams.
Another issue that I believe Tomblin needs to speak out on is the growing issue of state retirees being rehired as contractors and acting as state employees. The Legislative Auditor’s office released a report earlier this month regarding Joe Smith, the former director of the Division of Personnel and a member of the state Racing Commission. Smith provided contract services for both the Manchin and Tomblin administrations despite still receiving his full public pension annuity.
Now other retired employees are being found doing the same thing. To recap:
“Since releasing the report, the Legislative Auditor’s office identified two employees of the State Development Office who are contractors and exceeding the $15,000 cap. Allred also said that Phil Weikle, the interim chief operations officer for the West Virginia Health Information Network, is a contractor.
Weikle, who worked as the chief information officer for the state Workers’ Compensation Commission from 2003 to 2005 and the state Department of Health and Human Resources from 1998 to 2003, is the business development executive for Fenwick Technologies in Charleston. Since 1993 the state has paid Fenwick over $8 million for computer and IT work.
The state paid Fenwick $218,000 per year for Weikle’s service, while he received $36,000 per year in retirement payments. The contract with Fenwick ends tomorrow, and Weikle will go back on the state’s payroll Wednesday as a employee and give up his retirement.”
The act is called double dipping: being paid a pension for the government job you worked, only to take another government job. You’re getting a public pension and a government paycheck at the same time. West Virginia has laws in place to prevent this, including placing a $15,000 cap on how much a retired public employee can make while working another government job until their pension is frozen. The above retired state workers are getting around this by acting as contractors, plus there might be more doing this same thing.
In Tomblin’s defense, I’m sure most of these issues are leftover from the Manchin administration. But this is a serious issue that is costing the state money. Tomblin should publicly take a hard line against these acts and tighten up the laws to close this loophole.
Tomblin should be praised for the good he’s done, such as pushing for an OPEB funding solution. But Tomblin should be absolutely taken to task for not taking strong stances, or any stances, on voter fraud and double dipping.
- West Virginia Senate passes Gov. Tomblin’s OPEB fix (audio) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- Natural gas cracker tax incentive becomes first bill passed by West Virginia Legislature in 2012 (video) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- Unknown number of former West Virginia public employees could be using pension loophole (audio) (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
Posted under Blog, Elections, Ethics, Governor, House of Delegates, Legislation, Legislature, Secretary of State, State Senate, Waste, West Virginia.
Tags: Earl Ray Tomblin, George W. Bush, Jerry Bowman, Other postemployment benefits, Senate, Tomblin, West Virginia, West Virginia Senate
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