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STATEHOUSE BEAT MANCHIN'S JOB RATINGS DOWN, POLLS INDICATE


Publication: THE SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL
Published: Sunday, March 23, 2008
Page: 1C
Byline: PHIL KABLER

Last week's Rasmussen poll conducted for the Hillary Clinton campaign is the second in a month that shows Gov. Joe Manchin's job approval ratings have slipped considerably from the post-Sago days when he was peaking at around 80 percent approval.


The poll of 702 likely Democratic primary voters asked about Manchin's job performance as governor, with 23 percent rating him excellent and 34 percent good.


That's a 57 percent approval rating, or about two percentage points higher than the Global Strategies poll released earlier this month.


While those are numbers many politicians can only dream of (President George W. Bush's approval rating in the same poll was 15 percent), that's still a 23 percent plunge from the early days of early 2006.


Meanwhile, one group whose members are probably among the 42 percent rating Manchin as fair or poor is retired state employees and teachers.


According to Ernie "Spud" Terry, who lobbies for retired AFSCME members, retirees thought they had a solid agreement with the Manchin administration on a bill (HB4037) to increase the amount of state employee and Teachers' Retirement System pensions that are exempt from state income tax.


(The bill would have increased the exemption from the current first $2,000 of pension income to $16,000, at a cost of about $8 million a year to the state in lost tax revenues.)


Terry believed the agreement was so ironclad that he notified his membership as well as national AFSCME offices that the bill was going to pass.


Instead, it died at the end of the regular session, bottled up in Senate Finance Committee for the final 12 days of the session.


Retiree groups had hopes Manchin would include the bill on the call of the one-day special session last Sunday. Instead, Manchin opted for the consolation prize of a one-time $600 bonus for any retired state employees or teachers with 20 years or more of service who are drawing pensions of $7,200 or less a year.


That carries a price tag of about $2.2 million.


Terry said the retirees he's talked to are furious with Manchin, to the point where they may vote for long-shot challenger Delegate Mel Kessler, D-Raleigh, as a protest vote.


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Speaking of Kessler, readers directed me to visit his campaign Web site (www.melforgov.com) to partake of his fractured quotations, including:


"He saw a wrong, he tried to right it, some asked why, others asked why not," attributed to John F. Kennedy, and "Fight for the living, pray for the dead," attributed not to Mother Jones but to John L. Lewis.


Like I say, the Manchin-Kessler debates (if there are any) will make Lincoln-Douglass look like child's play.


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While we're on the topic of retirees, hats off to Vera Griffith of Charleston, a retired phone company employee who's leading a one-


woman campaign to lower the state gas tax, and is demanding an audience with the governor to make her case.


So far, she's gotten as high up as Jim Pitrolo, Manchin's legislative director.


Pitrolo said he explained to her that any cut in the gas tax means less money available to the state Road Fund for highway maintenance and repairs. He said the couple of dollars savings on a fill-up would pale to the costs of tires, alignments and other vehicle repairs from driving on substandard roads.


Vera is persistent, though, and told me she believes the state could make up lost gas tax revenues by cutting wasteful spending elsewhere.


Off the top of her head, she said eliminating the greyhound breeders' fund, rolling back the recent Legislative pay raise and allocating the taxes from the "Morgantown 8's" Powerball jackpot winnings alone would account for nearly $18 million.


I told her that's a good start, but to keep in mind that the gas tax in 2006-07 brought in nearly $350 million for the Road Fund.


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Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how the computer/Internet age has added transparency to the legislative process. However, computers can also create snafus on a scale inconceivable in the ink-and-paper days, as occurred during the special session on Sunday.


Legislators appeared to be on course to pass the teacher pension merger bill and wrap up at about 8:30 p.m., after the House agreed to accept a reasonable Senate amendment that will make it easier for Teachers Defined Contribution members to determine whether they would be better off staying in that plan or jumping to the Teachers Retirement System.


However, it quickly became evident that in their attempt to expedite the process, Senate staffers had inadvertently called up an earlier version of the much-revised teacher pension bill.


In essence, the Senate amended the wrong bill! By the time they rectified the problem, and went through the procedural requirements of recalling and re-acting on the bill in the Senate, it was literally the eleventh hour when the Legislature adjourned.


To contact staff writer Phil Kabler, e-mail philk@wvgazette.com or call 348-1220.

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