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Statehouse Beat: A look at CPP gifts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In keeping with the spirit of giving this holiday season, thought I'd take a closer look at gifts legislators have given to their communities, via the taxpayer-funded Community Participation Partnership Grants.

CPPs have been around for decades, but legislators turned to the funding mechanism as a way to direct money to hometown projects (and generate campaign-friendly giant check award photos) following the 2006 demise of the infamous legislative Budget Digest.

While only a fraction of the amounts entailed in Budget Digests (which topped out in 1998, with $39.12 million in spending directives), CPP grants also require approval of the governor's office, and legislators complained that for the first couple of years after elimination of the Budget Digest, then-Gov. Joe Manchin was miserly in signing off on grant requests.

From Sept. 1, 2012 to the present, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has approved a total of 775 CPP grants totaling $3,652,339.

Generally, CPP grants run in the few thousand-dollar range, with the smallest single grants of $500, although legislators from the same district frequently request multiple small grants for individual organizations or projects, inflating that $500 minimum.

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The largest single CPP grant approved is $60,000 for the Hardy County Commission, to be used for courthouse and community center improvements, and for the Wardensville Town Park. The grant was requested by then-Sen. Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, but was not approved until Aug. 2 -- more than six months after Helmick left the Senate to become agriculture commissioner.

The next largest is $50,000 for Beckley Little League field improvements, requested by Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh. That was followed by $40,000 grants or the Pleasants County Commission for pool repairs and property improvements, requested by Sens. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, and David Nohe, R-Wood; and for the Berkeley County Commission for various building upgrades, requested by Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley.

Berkeley County also picked up a $38,000 grant to help convert a former grocery store into a planned Public Safety Building, requested by Delegates Larry Kump, John Overington, and former Delegate Walter Duke, all R-Berkeley.

That's followed by $33,500 grant for the city of Martinsburg for updates and repairs to athletic field and concession stand, requested by Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson.

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Many programs and organizations received multiple grants during the period, topped by the Preston County Commission for its "Trout for Cheat" trout stocking campaign in the Cheat River.

Delegate Larry Williams and former Delegate Stan Shaver, both D-Preston, obtained two grants totaling $33,000 earlier in the year, followed up with a $10,000 grant awarded Sept. 19, requested by Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston.

Similarly, the Milton Pumpkin Festival has a lot of supporters in the Legislature, picking up a $10,000 grant requested by Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and three separate $5,000 grants, all awarded Aug. 22, from Delegates Kevin Craig and Jim Morgan both D-Cabell, and Carol Miller, R-Cabell.

(As we can see, the Legislature is very bipartisan when it comes to asking for grant money.)

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Among the more unusual grants is $2,000 for a West Virginia Firefighters calendar, requested by Delegates Doug Reynolds and Dale Stephens, both D-Cabell, and Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; $5,000 for office furnishings for the West Virginia Poultry Association headquarters, requested by Sypolt, and $4,000 for stun guns for the Weirton Police Department, requested by Delegate Ronnie Jones, D-Hancock.

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Finally, grate minds think alike? Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., made headlines last week for a speech he gave in his southeastern Georgia district calling for eliminating free school lunches for low-income children.

He was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as telling the audience, "One of the things I've talked to the Secretary of Agriculture about [is], why don't you, you know, have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch - or maybe sweep the floor in the cafeteria."

Where have we heard a lawmaker advocate for making poor children work for their free school lunches? That's right, on the House floor this past spring, when Delegate Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, opined that giving free meals to poor children via the "Feed to Achieve Act" (SB663) would ruin the children's work ethic:

"I think it would be a good idea if perhaps we had the kids work for their lunches: trash to be taken out, hallways to be swept, lawns to be mowed, make them earn it," Canterbury said in an April 12 floor speech, one that drew an impassioned rebuke from Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, who said she was astonished anyone would suggest making young children labor for their meals.

Sorry to close out with a "bah humbug" item, but here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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