contractors owed the money. The state failed to do its job to collect
premium dollars owed by contractors."
Together, Island Creek and A.T. Massey Coal Co. hired more contractors
than anyone else. Together, their contractors owe more than $90 million
for debts between 1987 and the mid-1990s.
Yet other major coal companies, such as Arch Mineral Corp. and Ashland
Coal, had few delinquent contractors. Unlike Massey and Island Creek,
those companies routinely required contractors to prove they paid
compensation premiums every three months.
Wise also criticized Underwood and Vieweg for cutting
employer premium rates by 8 percent for the fiscal year that began on July
1. All four labor members of the Performance Council voted against
In April, Jim Bowen, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, criticized
Vieweg's predictions that medical costs would drop by 32 percent this
year. Those predictions were based, in part, on plans to hire a private
contractor to perform "utilization review" for medical expenditures.
"They haven't even let the bids out yet," Bowen said. "Yet we are
forecasting a 32 percent savings. It is amazing how we can do this. With a
crystal ball, I guess."
Wise called the 8 percent reduction "a political move partly
based on reductions in health-care costs they have not achieved. Six
months later, the agency still does not have a contractor or a plan to
reduce those rates. That was a rash action."
Page defends the rate reductions even though the agency is still
working on paying off the $2.2 billion debt accumulated by 1995.
"This administration has reduced that debt by $560 million, a 25
percent reduction, in less than four years," Page said. "Lowering the debt
is like lowering a mortgage. The Performance Council had the opportunity
to grant rate relief to employers. One of the most difficult issues
we have is high Workers' Compensation premiums."
Wise said, "I want to lower Workers' Compensation premiums rates
as fast as I can. But we got into trouble before by arbitrarily lowering
Workers' Comp rates without showing lower costs."
In July 1985, Gov. Arch Moore mandated an across-the-board 30 percent
cut in Workers' Comp premiums. In four years, that action proved a major
factor in creating a $2.2 billion deficit.
Page said, "This is a balancing act. We are already eliminating the
deficit at a rate far ahead of the 40-year predictions. This
administration felt it was a good idea to provide rate relief. Both can be
done at the same time. We also run the agency more efficiently and are
very vigorous in pursuit of premium dollars."
Page praised former Gov. Gaston Caperton and the 1995 Legislature for
"setting the stage for reforms we have implemented. Investment income has
also helped generate income that had helped reduce the deficit."
West Virginia Jobs Act
Wise and Underwood also disagree about a law to give
local workers jobs on building projects funded with state tax dollars.
Wise said he would have supported a "pilot project" law passed
by the Legislature in 1998, but vetoed by Underwood.
"I would have supported that law to study the impact of the 75-mile
radius for hiring workers. I don't think we should have job sites like the
West Virginia University Coliseum. It was a veritable United Nations with
workers speaking several different languages."
In May 28, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested 28
workers without proper work visas employed by contractors at the Coliseum.
Steve White, executive director of the Affiliated Construction Trades
Foundation, said, "Look at the illegal aliens hired at WVU. In return for
investing our tax dollars in projects, we should have the commitment that
local workers get jobs. Our tax dollars finance low-wage workers brought
in from other states and even other countries."
Blackstone criticized an ACT television ad. "Their ads blaming the
governor for illegal aliens is a distortion of facts and a lie. The
governor's veto of that  bill had nothing to do with WVU.
"The ACT Foundation is out there trying to attack and attack and attack
because Bob Wise cannot point to anything he has accomplished for
West Virginia in 18 years."
Page said the West Virginia Jobs Act "would have been counterproductive
for West Virginia workers. It is likely it would have resulted in other
"If you lived in the Eastern Panhandle, you might not be able to get a
job in Maryland. This would open a dangerous can of worms. In West
Virginia, about 85 percent of all people working on construction jobs are
already West Virginians," he said.
White said, "We are not keeping other workers out of our state. That
law followed Appalachian Regional Commission recommendations, which
Huntington, there would be a lot of workers from Ohio and Kentucky.
"If other states passed similar legislation, our workers would be local
workers in bordering communities in five surrounding states."
Page said, "This administration has done everything it can to encourage
investment that creates jobs. During the past four years, companies and
employers have invested $4.5 billion in West Virginia and announced the
creation of 37,000 jobs."
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.