The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 30, 2013

Residents turn out for legislative forum

By C.V. Moore
Register-Herald Reporter

FAYETTEVILLE — Citizens of Fayette County and their representatives came together to discuss education, health care, and the state’s economic future at a legislative forum hosted Thursday by Fayette Fair Share.

Attendees heard presentations by representatives from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care and the West Virginia Education Association.

Fayette Fair Share is a political action committee (PAC) focused on social issues whose priority is “to bring economic security and opportunity to middle class families while creating the conditions necessary for more families to join the middle class.”

Their focus this legislative season is correctional reform, Medicaid expansion, protection of voter rights and passage of Fayette County’s excess levy for schools.

Ted Boettner, who directs the Center on Budget and Policy, discussed The Future Fund initiative, an effort to save a portion of natural resource severance tax income for future economic development and infrastructure projects, as other states across the country have done.

The fund is an effort to ensure that West Virginia reaps long-term benefits from short-term mineral extraction and maintains some degree of economic consistency within the boom-bust cycle associated with the energy industries.

The group proposes using the interest of the fund “to provide an ongoing stream of revenue to help meet the challenges of the future.”

Boettner said the idea has received broad support from legislators and governments across the state. He said the only reservations he has heard were from a county that liked the idea but said they needed all their coal severance money for immediate budgetary maintenance.

The fund’s advocates ask that people contact their legislators and let them know the issue is a priority.

Attendees also heard about Medicaid expansion from Perry Bryant of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVACH), who says that if Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin approves the expansion, 120,000 additional West Virginians will gain access to health insurance coverage.

Currently, a family of three that earns 31 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) is eligible; the measure, which is in the Affordable Care Act, would increase that threshold to $26,300.

“This is a fundamental decision, and it’s also a decision of fairness,” said Bryant.

If the governor does not approve the expansion, those who earn less than the FPL would also not receive a subsidy for buying coverage, but someone earning 400 percent of the FPL would, according to WVACH.

“I don’t think that’s what West Virginians believe is right, and I hope it’s not what the governor believes,” said Bryant.

Finally, Dave Haney gave a defense of the WVEA’s response to the recent audit of West Virginia’s school system.

“We’re not opposed to the audit ... but I don’t think it’s the answer to all the problems we have in public education,” he said.

The WVEA’s position is that the audit, based on three sample counties, was not “comprehensive” and doesn’t reflect the state’s diverse school systems.

Haney also says that the report, in some cases, doesn’t address the right issues. He says it focuses on operational efficiencies over student achievement as reflected in underlying issues like curriculum, parent involvement, truancy, class size and alternative education.

The WVEA agrees with audit findings related to relevant staff development, reorganization of the state Department of Education, finding a focused role for RESA, teacher recruitment and incentives, and other issues, said Haney.

“Our audit response reflects teachers’ frustrations over being bashed day in and day out from all levels of government and being confronted with the lack of parental involvement,” Haney said.

For more, visit Fayette Fair Share on Facebook.

— E-mail: cmoore@register-herald.com