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Statehouse Beat: Manchin's familiar rumblings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The national media last week learned what those of us who have covered Sen. Joe Manchin for years have always known: He can sound like he's saying something substantive without saying much of anything at all.

During his appearances on network morning shows, Manchin, of course, never called for banning anything, but for a dialogue on how to stem the national epidemic of mass shootings. Indeed, Manchin is probably right in that the problem is not just the easy accessibility to semi-automatic weapons, but also insufficient mental health care resources, and a pop culture that glorifies extreme violence in movies and video games.

Given that tone, it was remarkable to see the vile and nasty comments directed at Manchin from the extreme gun rights advocates -- particularly since they're not acting in a position of strength under the circumstances.

It was entirely inappropriate for Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia chapter of the "astroturf" group Citizens Defense League to refer to Manchin as "Sen. Elmer Fudd" and calling him a snake for daring to even open a dialogue on extreme gun violence in this country.

Equally bizarre were comments from state Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas calling Manchin "classless" for raising the issue so soon after the Newtown shootings, and saying he had "humiliated himself and his state."

Lucas did not say how long a waiting period would be appropriate before the topic is suitable for national debate ... perhaps until the next mass murder?

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Some readers suggested I was unfair to poke fun at the lack of math skills of the author of a New York Times report that said the state gives out more than $1.5 billion of tax incentives each year. (Heck, I was just looking for an easy segue into the fact that the state had just released its annual Tax Credit Disclosure List ... )

Whether the correct figure is $1.5 billion or more like $82 million is a matter of semantics. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what a tax incentive is.

To my mind, a tax incentive is something a state actively offers to recruit or retain a particular business, be it tax credits, grants, low-interest loans, etc.

In the Times report, the vast majority of what it calls incentives -- more than $1.2 billion of the total -- is because the state does not impose consumer sales taxes on raw materials. (Nor does any other state, as far as I'm aware.)

Because West Virginia, given its relatively small size, exports a lot of coal, natural gas, and electricity, the Times makes it look like we're giving away a lot of incentives on a per capita basis.   

Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette, who has been critical of the Times report, said it makes for great copy and generates a lot of conversation, but is not a valid comparison of tax incentives state-by-state.

"It's not comparing apples with apples," he said. "It's comparing apples with pineapples."

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While we think of tax credits as going to businesses and corporations, lots of individuals get tax credits.

According to the latest tax credit report, folks like Angus Peyton and Ken Lowe claimed Super Tax credits of between $1 and $50,000 on their personal income tax.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., got a Qualified Rehabilitated Residential credit of between $50,000 and $100,000, and a Historical Rehabilitation Building credit of between $1 and $50,000 in the 2007 tax year.

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After an initial meeting last week to review applications, the Educational Broadcasting Authority will meet on Dec. 28 to interview finalists for the executive director position for West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Meanwhile, the executive director forced into retirement by the authority, Dennis Adkins, agreed to stay on for another month to give the authority time to get his successor on board.

The fact that there are 15 applicants says a lot about this being a buyers' market in the media these days.

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin earned some points with state employees this month, first by transferring $4 million to PEIA to assure there will be neither premium increases nor benefits cuts in their health insurance coverage for the 2013-14 plan year, and then by extending their half-day off for Christmas Eve into a full holiday.

However, state offices will be open a half-day on New Year's Eve. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ordered that circuit clerk's offices be open a half-day both days, much to the chagrin of employees.

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Finally, yes, West Virginia, there will be a 2013 state sesquicentennial calendar -- or more accurately, the annual state Historical Preservation calendar put out by the Division of Culture and History will have a sesquicentennial theme.

There have been concerns about the state's preparations (or lack of) for its 150th birthday, since the state's Sesquicentennial Commission has been largely inactive since mass resignations last spring over whether the sesquicentennial's emphasis should be on history and education, or on festivals, parades and reenactments, as favored by Randall Reid-Smith and Kay Goodwin.

The calendar is expected to be available later this week.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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