Friday, December 30, 2005

It's Time for a New Year!

After several years of intensive research, I have finally completed my genealogy study. It has been an amazing experience in learning who my ancestors were. Some were notable, most were just regular folks, and a few obviously were scoundrels. I thought I’d pass along biographical sketches of a few of the more interesting ancestors in my family tree.


The Admiral is my only known ancestor of French origin. He was declared a hero during the Battle of New Orleans by Andrew Jackson. During the battle, Captain LaRoquefort sailed into New Orleans with a hold full of bananas. His ship was a month late arriving at port and the bananas had ripened to a rich brown color. But all was not lost as he directed his crew to spread the bananas on the streets of the French Quarter, thus causing the British soldiers to slip and fall during their advance. Jackson awarded a field promotion to Admiral for my great-great-grandfather LaRoquefort.

Based on further research, I also learned that France built the Maginot Line along the arc of a banana to honor the exploits of Admiral LaRoquefort.


He was an itinerant cobbler from Exmoor in Devonshire. He arrived at Boston in 1693 claiming to be the sole heir of Lord Bartelby Pecksniff D’Urberville, Twelfth Earl of Exmoor. It turned out that he was the illegitimate son of Lord Bartleby and Miss Tess Mountoffen. She worked in the Lord’s castle as a pastry maker and was renowned for her meat pie concoctions.

"R. Q.", as he was known in Massachusetts Bay Colony court records, convinced many Boston merchants that he was the scion of royalty and ran up quite a tab before being sentenced to Debtor’s Prison in London. Before leaving Boston, he had managed to impregnate my great-great-great-grandmother, Dorcas Micawber.


First of my ancestors to settle in what is now West Virginia, he served in the Revolution and was given land in lieu of wages for military service. As was the custom in that age, he was required to clear the land and plant corn to prove his homestead claim. He then turned his interests to distilling his crop which allowed him to increase his landholdings. He married Peg(gotty) M’Choakumchild and they had thirteen children that lived to adulthood.


A fourth cousin, I include him because of his literary skills. He went west in the 1870’s and wrote famous short stories such as: The Mule of the Baskervilles, A Tale of Three Cities, The Casket of Lemonjello, and The Pit and the Metronome. For two decades, Edgar Allen was a newspaper reporter and wrote obituaries for the Tombstone Gazette.

Here’s hoping that your 2005 helped you find your roots.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Along With Atlas, West Virginia Shrugs

In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club surveyed readers and asked them to name books that had made a difference in their lives. As you would expect, the Bible finished in first place. You will be surprised to learn that Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, was in second place, leading all other books.

Jeff Allen, a railroad-hopping hobo, is one of my favorite fictional characters. We meet him in "The Sign of the Dollar," the 20th chapter of Atlas Shrugged. Jeff is discovered hiding in Miss Dagny Taggart’s personal rail car. Miss Taggart, by the way, is no mere rich dame on holiday; she is the Operating V. P. of Taggart Transcontinental railroad.

Rather than have the conductor throw Jeff Allen off the train, Miss Taggart unexpectedly invites him to join her for supper. And it is their dinner conversation that succinctly explains Ayn Rand’s view of communism and compulsory unionism. The dinner scene, in many ways, is the essence of Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

Jeff Allen had been a machinist and shop foreman at the Twentieth Century Motor Company plant in Wisconsin. When the owner of the company died, his heirs recommended a new employee compensation plan: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Still ashamed of his actions after twelve years, Jeff Allen admits that he and the other workers voted the plan in.

Jeff Allen’s dialogue, spoken in the inner sanctum of Ayn Rand’s heroine, is both riveting and compelling. He explains how unproductive workers bled the talented and ambitious workers of not only their paychecks, but of their will to work. No matter how much the ablest produced, the needs of the non-productive were never satisfied.

With regard to the author’s writing style, her metaphors are often over the top and harsh to a fault. Even so, I would submit to you that the answer as to why West Virginia’s best and brightest young people have left here in droves for jobs in other states is because West Virginia government has adopted a semblance of "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need" in its tax laws and spending policies. For decades, the business sector has been charged ever-escalating taxes and fees to pay worker compensation benefits, unemployment benefits, Medicaid benefits, public employee benefits, and public education costs. For decades, businesses have closed or moved their operations out of state. For decades, West Virginia’s students have learned the three R’s-readin’, writin’, and route 77.

But wait! Times have changed. We now have a new slogan: West Virginia is open for business. Yes, there certainly have been some noteworthy changes in public policy over the last year or two. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of talk in the halls of the Capitol about allowing state employees to organize collective bargaining units.

Let’s leave it at this-saying you’re open for business while saying you’re in favor of a closed shop is a contradiction in terms.

For all practical purposes, public school teachers already represent a collective bargaining unit. That system, while never tightly glued to begin with, is starting to unravel even more. Eastern panhandle teachers want pay adjustments for the region’s higher cost of living. Since they can’t get that pay increase under the present system, many have opted to teach in Virginia. Ironic, isn’t it, that our teachers can earn much more money in a right-to-work state?

To be sure, Atlas Shrugged is a work of fiction; there was no Twentieth Century Motor Company nor did Taggart Transcontinental rule the rails. The story line, however, rings true with readers because Ayn Rand eloquently translates this simple truth: Employees are not simple pegs to be driven into convenient holes by the powers that be.

If West Virginia does allow state employees the right to form collective bargaining units, then organized labor faces a very risky situation. In recent years, unions haven’t had much luck winning elections. Should state employees reject union representation, and there is likelihood that they will reject the union if given the chance, it would have the same effect as if West Virginia passed a right-to-work law. Now that message really would announce: West Virginia is open for business.

Let ‘em vote.

Friday, November 4, 2005

West Virginians Endured After 1985 Flood

As happened in 1888, most of West Virginia was covered by flood waters in 1985.  And as before, the deluge was more like a flash flood than slow rising waters.  The damage done in 1985 was, of course, much worse.

After any natural disaster, it is almost impossible to describe the devastation to man-made structures in relevant terms.  The reason we lack the words is that Nature exerts forces that humankind cannot begin to fathom.  When Nature goes on a rampage, we have but one option and that option is evacuation.

In November 1985, nobody thought that the Tygarts, Cheat, Potomac, and Greenbrier rivers would rise as fast and as high as they did.  Nearly fifty people drowned as a result.  Were it not for the fact that "higher ground" is always one step away in our state, the death toll could have been in the hundreds, if not thousands.

When I surveyed the flood area, the damage that concerned me the most was the wholesale loss of important bridges.  Highways are nothing without bridges.  With some two dozen main highway bridges completely washed away, it was obvious that recovery efforts would be much more difficult.

Although many towns and rural hamlets were initially isolated from outside help, that isolation did not stop the people who lived there from immediately beginning the clean-up.  And that is not so surprising because people who live in the mountains or on farms are much more self-sufficient than their urban cousins.  How many urbanites own a chain saw or a shovel?

If I had to characterize the West Virginians that I met during the flood recovery, I would call them "resilient."  I remember a Pendleton County family who lost their house and possessions but had not left their land.  They had covered an outbuilding with tarpaper and moved in rather than leave for a faraway motel.  How many urbanites have outbuildings?

There are big differences between urban and rural areas when it comes to natural disasters.  The first is that showboating reporters like Geraldo Rivera ignore rural disasters.  The second is that urban disaster areas are almost totally dependent on government agencies for recovery efforts. 

As we recently saw in New Orleans, the local, state, and federal governments were routinely criticized for mounting such a slow response.  But if one were to be objective in his critique, it takes time (sometimes days) to get to the disaster area.  Just because the rain stops doesn’t mean the surrounding floodwaters have started to recede.

In West Virginia, state agencies and National Guard units have earned pretty good marks for flood response over the years.  There does tend to be criticism of the federal response but that is primarily due to the fact that people expect FEMA and the SBA to open their checkbooks wider than Congress has authorized. 

In the end, government cannot make victims whole again.  Government executives as well as grandstanding politicians should paint a realistic picture when it comes to disaster response.  False hopes in a time of disaster are usually more devastating than the sense of hopelessness that victims experience on the day of the disaster.

In any natural disaster, a community’s self-sufficiency is its best hope for a speedy recovery.  West Virginians were the model of resiliency in the aftermath of the 1985 flood.  Not only did they help their neighbors by donating food, clothing and money, but they banded together to rebuild their communities.

I was very proud to be involved with relief and rebuilding efforts in 1985.  Those of us at the Department of Highways did our best to get the roads and bridges rebuilt before winter set in.  But in my heart, I know that our best would not have been good enough had the people in the flood area been as helpless as the city folk in New Orleans.

There’s something to be admired about people who can hold their own until the cavalry arrives.  In recognizing the 20th anniversary of the great West Virginia flood, we should remember the resiliency of the survivors. 

David G. Allen served as Assistant Commissioner of the WV Department of Highways, 1985-1986.

Friday, September 30, 2005

We Live in an Age of Hope, Unlike the 1970s

Words define an age and former NBC News anchorman Edwin Newman accurately captured the 1970s Americana in two of his books-Strictly Speaking and A Civil Tongue

The 1970s were a strange time, indeed.  President Richard Nixon and his Vice President, Spiro Agnew, resigned their respective offices.  Congressman Gerald Ford had been all but shoved into the White House.  Viet Nam ended in debacle.  The gold standard was scrapped.  Inflation not only soared but seemed impossible to control.  And all of this happened before a "born again" president, Jimmy Carter, ran for reelection on a platform of "malaise", "stagflation", "misery index", "hostage crisis", and oil companies "rippin’ us off." 

"Hopefully" is one of the 1970s words that Mr. Newman writes about.  He points out that people had given up saying (correctly), "I hope that something will happen."  Instead, Americans of all educational levels began saying, "Hopefully, something will happen."

Technically speaking, the adverb "hopefully" does not modify the verb in any sentence that begins, "Hopefully, …"  That is why it’s usage is incorrect.  But from a psychological viewpoint, "hopefully" came into accepted use because it captured the funk and angst of the 1970s.  The American people, after all, had been conditioned to expect bad outcomes ever since President John F. Kennedy was gunned down.  And we have not elected a U. S. senator to the presidency ever since Lyndon Baines Johnson so adequately demonstrated why we shouldn’t.

Given the failed missions of all the presidents from Kennedy to Carter, it is not surprising that people fell into the routine of saying, "Hopefully, something good will happen." 

Times change, and eventually, good things happen.  I am very reluctant to say that good times came about solely because of Presidents Reagan, Bush (41), and Clinton.  Each of these administrations had their brush with failure.  The Democrats wanted to hang Reagan and Bush over Iran-Contra and the Republicans returned the favor by trying to hang Clinton over Monica.  All was not pretty during the 1980s and 1990s.

Rather than a president, it was the sacking of our embassy in Iran that dramatically changed people’s expectations.  They changed from hoping something would happen to making something happen; from the passive to the active, so to speak.

As we all know, our embassy staff in Tehran was freed just as Ronald Reagan took the oath of office.  But it was not Reagan, the man, who brought about the hostage release.  This was not a case where Gary Cooper, armed with a badge and six gun, was standing alone in the street.  On the contrary.  The Iranians correctly read that the America people were ready for change and that they had hired a man who would, if need be, use our full military power to make that change happen.

Contemporaneously, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher rallied Great Britain by defeating Argentina in the Falkland Islands war.  It was Margaret Thatcher who best described the turnabout in 1980s attitudes when she said, "We have ceased to be a nation in retreat."

We are now a quarter century into the future.  Yes, there still are negative thinkers among us who begin their sentences, "Hopefully, …"  But the word that best describes our age is the frequently-used, one-word answer to even the most challenging of questions: "Absolutely!"  And "Absolutely!" is spoken in a winner’s dialect whenever uttered.

As in the 1970s, we are paying record-high oil prices.  The television networks report on the war in Iraq with the same anti-military bias that they did in Viet Nam.  There are millions of hard-core Democrats who think the presidential election of 2000 was another Watergate.  In essence, you do not have to look very hard to find enough negative sentiments to make one believe that we are reliving the 1970s.

But there is a difference in our age.  People have positive expectations of all outcomes, no matter how dire the situation. 

Witness the outpouring of aid after the Christmas tsunami in Asia or Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.  In the face of overwhelming destruction, Americans have opened their wallets and their hearts to the victims of these disasters.  And between disasters, Americans volunteered their time to patrol the Arizona-Mexico border and search for a missing girl in Aruba.

We live in an enviable age.  We believe in ourselves, our motives, and the American way of life.  And that is a refreshing change from the 1970s.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Will West Virginia Lose the Potomac River? (part 2)

Part Two of Two

As many as a dozen federal regulatory agencies have some responsibility for the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Six states and the District of Columbia are responsible for the health of the Bay’s 64,000 sq. mi. watershed. I assume that none of the responsible bureaucracies are doing their job very well or one-third of the Bay would not have been declared "dead" in July of this year.

The usual suspects-light rainfall and agricultural runoff-were indicted in press releases. The EPA trumpeted that "new limits" agreed to by the states would further reduce nitrogen and phosphorous discharges in an effort to reduce dead zones. Then it was back to business as usual.

When you rub a dog’s nose in his own mess, he gets the message. When it comes to government, however, the lesson fails. In fact, the opposite happens. Regulators always respond with puppy dog faces; that they have neither the funds nor the manpower to fulfill their mandate. Whimpering gets them off the leash for another budget year.

Eventually, this do-nothing attitude will change because the people who draw their drinking water from the Potomac will begin to get jittery about intersex fish. As it is now, a dead crow in the Maryland suburbs creates hysteria about West Nile virus. Imagine the panic if a human health connection is made to endocrine-disrupting compounds in drinking water.

In a worst-case scenario, the Potomac watershed in eastern West Virginia is at risk of either being condemned in the public interest or declared a federal territory. Or perhaps, the federal courts would impose some form of environmental easement to accomplish the same. My belief that this could happen sounds far-fetched-hyperbole if you will. But in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, the rules of logic have changed.

The March 2002 issue of California Law Review contains the 100-page article "Is West Virginia Unconstitutional?" The last two sentences in the article read: "West Virginians may rest secure in the knowledge that their State is not unconstitutional. Probably."

If your lawyer wrote you a 100-page memo regarding your own legitimacy, how would you feel if he ended it by saying, "Probably."?

The authors also asked themselves, "Why would anyone care?…Given that…West Virginia is not…going to be absorbed back into old Virginia…" In other words, without a plaintiff with standing, nobody is going to force the issue of West Virginia’s statehood in court. I would like to see this article updated in light of Kelo vs. City of New London. For it appears to this non-lawyer that either the federal government or the municipal water districts of metropolitan Washington, DC have a unique opportunity to do exactly what New York City did to the Catskills--condemn a faraway watershed to provide drinking water.

Okay, that’s enough shock and awe.

West Virginia does have a window of opportunity to get out in front on the issue of intersex fish. But our attitude and response must be positive and inquisitive rather than the predictable role of regulators satisfied with assessing penalties and tinkering with discharge limits.

West Virginia is developing a promising biometrics industry through research and development. Thus, why can’t we use the R&D model to move to the forefront on stream and river research? The Potomac, more than any other river, ought to be a powerful magnet for federal research grants for our universities.

Thomas Jefferson was so inspired when he visited Harper’s Ferry that he wrote, "The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature." This is the same inspiration that we must embrace if we intend to clean up the river. But instead, we find ourselves living in an age when vandals have painted the very rock upon which Jefferson dipped his quill pen.

The Potomac River is under attack.

Dr. Robert E. Putz, Founder of the Freshwater Institute at Shepherdstown, WV contributed to this article.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Will West Virginia Lose the Potomac River? (part 1)

Part One of Two

The Potomac River is under attack! What else would you call it when people use the Potomac, one of America’s great rivers, as a sewer to dump Chinese snakehead fish and Florida alligators? Although the recent discovery of these exotic castaways demonstrates the casual disregard that people have for the Potomac, there is a more sinister assault taking shape. Environmental contaminants from unknown sources are causing male bass to produce eggs--a condition known as intersex.

The discovery of intersex fish began with an investigation of a Potomac River fish kill in 2002. The dead fish had skin lesions and specimens were examined by different laboratories to determine the cause of the lesions as well as cause of death. In 2003, biologists at the U. S. Geological Survey’s Leetown Science Center in Jefferson County discovered the intersex anomaly. As to what causes intersexing has been a focus of their research since then.

Biologists suspect that endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are the culprit. That suspicion, however, does little to narrow the search for the actual compound or compounds that are responsible. For example, certain pesticides and herbicides are EDCs. And you cannot rule out pharmaceutical hormones. When excreted, the hormones in birth control pills find their way untouched through a wastewater treatment plant and end up in the river.

The same is true for other hormones; including those mixed in livestock feed. And it’s just not the man-made stuff that causes problems. Soy beans, red clover, and a whole host of other plants naturally produce phytoestrogens.

According to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, several sampling points on the South Branch of the Potomac exhibit above-acceptable levels of antibiotics. And there’s Roxarsone, an organo-arsenic compound fed to poultry. The arsenic (according to my reading) does not contaminate the chicken but passes through in the manure. In time, the arsenic in the manure drops out and is detectable as arsenate in water samples, especially those samples taken during a runoff event.

Get the picture? The sources for EDC contamination are many-from poultry barns to suburban lawns to households. The local grocery, pharmacy, and hardware store provide us with chemicals that we use routinely and without second thought in our daily lives.

To better understand the complexity of intersex fish and what it means for humans, my one big question has been, "If wastewater treatment plants do not remove the suspect EDCs, then does the downstream water treatment plant remove them before they can enter a municipal drinking water system?" The answer should be obvious to the non-scientist.

With so many variables in play, and no simple, sure-fire way to remove EDCs from the river, perhaps we should consider an alternative method to clean up the Potomac.

The basic principle of water treatment has not changed much since the Chinese developed it some 5,000 years ago. The operative word in water treatment is "dilution." Whereas Chinese farmers used a series of settling ponds to dilute toxins, we supplant the ancient process with concrete settling basins, sand or activated carbon filters, and a shot of ozone or chlorine to kill bacteria. But the end goal is the same-reduce toxins from parts per million to parts per billion, and so forth.

Our mountains are tall enough to shortchange the Potomac watershed on rainfall, but they aren’t tall enough to provide a snow melt into the dry months of summer. If the Potomac had a stronger summertime flow, we wouldn’t be researching intersex fish or discussing the impact of EDCs.

I, for one, would hate to see the Potomac’s tributaries dammed at every pinch point just to dilute EDCs. But that may be the best solution available if intersex bass turn out to be the canaries in the coal mine. Regardless, the recipe for success calls for more water or less chemistry-dilution.

At present, we cannot draw definitive conclusions from the water and fish studies that have been done. Some bass exhibit intersex, others do not, and other fish species seem perfectly fine. We have no sure cause for the intersex phenomenon. And we do not have a chemical profile of the Potomac.

What we have at this point is a hunch. Playing a hunch often leads to conjecture. Conjecture invariably leads to hyperbole. And hyperbole occupies a special place in America-Washington, DC.

In Part Two, I will discuss the federal solution.

Dr. Robert E. Putz, Founder of the Freshwater Institute at Shepherdstown, WV contributed to this article.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Eminent Domain Has Become Imminent Domain

The theory of the Communists may be summed up in this simple sentence: Abolition of private property.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848
In the annals of property condemnation by the government’s exercise of eminent domain, there are winners and losers. And in rare cases, the status quo held.

The winners, of course, are easy to spot. You see their land every time you exit the interstate. While ten houses on one street might have been cleared away for a new highway, the untouched adjoinder properties soared in value when the exit ramps opened to traffic.

As for the status quo being unchanged, I invite you to travel US 50 in Harrison County. Just east of Salem stands the Bristol United Methodist Church, a rather substantial brick structure that originally sat alongside old US 50 until it was condemned for construction of Appalachian Corridor D, the present four-lane superhighway.

The Bristol congregation was not ready to see their church demolished, so they used their condemnation check to hire Goff Brothers Co. of Pullman, WV to move the church up on the hillside. If you had witnessed the church being lugged uphill to its present site, you would believe in miracles. Not a brick was lost nor a window cracked in the ascent.

The big losers in eminent domain condemnations tend to be the landowners whose property is partially taken. The William Kester farm in Harrison County is the best example of the ruinous effects of a partial taking that I know of.

Nearly every acre of Mr. Kester’s bottomland was condemned to build the Saltwell interchange of Interstate 79. That left him owning only hillside land on each side of the interchange. And as if done in a fit of spite, the new highway snipped five feet off of one corner of the Kester’s house, leaving it uninhabitable. But rather than tear his house down, Mr. Kester sawed off the small wedge that the state could not do without, and then he nailed siding boards across the diagonal to close the opening.

The Kester house overlooks Exit 125 from the southwest and remains as a monument to the cruelty that the government’s power of eminent domain can inflict on a proud farmer.

The well-connected and certain politicians have enjoyed their own version of eminent domain. These scurrilous cheats either had the new highway built to their land or knew years in advance where the highway was headed and bought the right land before the public was allowed to see the plans.

In the 1960’s, LOOK magazine featured an expose about a South Carolina Congressman who owned a large tract of rural land. By coincidence, if we are to believe the congressman’s story, the new interstate just happened to access his land with an interchange.

Do the well-connected still take advantage of inside information? Perhaps. The mayor of Erie, PA faces trial for a land deal related to a race track and redevelopment project in that city.

In 1954, the Supreme Court expanded the power of eminent domain when it ruled that blighted urban land could be seized for redevelopment. It was just a matter of time before the court reached its 5-4 decision in Kelo vs. City of New London which allows the taking of private property for "public benefit." We will have to wait for a future decision (or decisions) for the court to set the limits of "public benefit."

At present, the federal court system consistently restricts land use by humans whenever the Endangered Species Act comes into play. Even our national borders cannot be walled off because that would interfere with the migration of some of the animals and birds on the endangered list. Along with the Kelo decision, it is now fair to say that you, as a property owner, have almost no standing in the courts. The pygmy cactus owl or the colossus shopping mall can take your land on a whim.

Central planners decide which animals are classified as endangered species. Central planners decide the curricula that your children study in the public schools. Central planners decide the size of your local airport. Central planners even decide which military bases are to be closed. And with the high court’s blessing, central planners are defining the words "public benefit" as they have already done for New London, CT.

Central planners also decide where the highway exits are built. But as Nobel economist F. A. Hayek pointed out in The Road to Serfdom, it is the route that central planners invariably choose, and not the actual pavement, that gives the book its name.

Friday, July 1, 2005

A Left Turn On The King Coal Highway

In early June, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spoke at the United Nations World Environment Day conference in San Francisco and announced he had issued an Executive Order requiring the virtual elimination of greenhouse gases (GHG) in California by 2050.  As California is the world’s 7th largest economy, the most populous American state, and the national trendsetter in all behaviors social, coal-producing states like West Virginia need to take his decree seriously.  If California follows through on his GHG reduction plan, then we will have, on a de facto basis, ratified the Kyoto Treaty.

Oh Arnold!  Must we all pay an imaginary piper because your in-laws have made you feel guilty for burning tons of napalm on your way to becoming a Hollywood millionaire?

Also flying across the radar screen is the resurgence of nuclear power.  The Green religion considers GHG the equivalent of 666 in Revelations.  And to exorcise GHG, the Greens have become blind, deaf, and dumb monks whenever the topic of nuclear power is debated.  Talk about an unholy alliance against coal!

The facts of burning coal are simple but no scientist is prescient enough to draw conclusions about atmospheric warming from them.  When you burn coal, you get lots of carbon dioxide.  The trees can reprocess part of the CO2, but only seasonally.  The oceans can absorb CO2, but at a fixed rate.  Coal gasification strips CO2 ahead of the smokestack, but the CO2 gas must be liquefied and pumped underground at great pressure.  CO2 that cannot be reprocessed or stored goes into the atmosphere and, so the theory goes, causes the greenhouse effect.

Regardless of your position or thoughts on GHG and global warming, we are not far from the era when pollution credits are auctioned to competing industries.  The government will determine hypothetical annual limits for GHG’s, and fossil-fuel-burning industries will have to pay large sums for the rights to discharge GHG’s.

Pollution credits are not scientific.  Instead, they represent the political solution for a problem that has far too many variables for humankind to solve.  Count the votes in Congress of the coal-producing states and compare that total to the votes of the non-coal states.  West Virginia loses any contest in which "Congress felt it had to take action on global warming!"

In one respect, pollution credits will, for the first time, place an economic cost on air pollution.  Prior to this approach, only the cost of abatement equipment has factored into the equation.  It’s one thing to determine the price of a car’s catalytic converter but quite another to anticipate the auction bids of American Electric Power and Allegheny Power for credits to generate one million megawatt-hours of electricity.  We won’t know the cost of GHG credits until we see it priced at the meter.  On the bright side, the air pollution taxes that we’ll eventually pay should restore solvency to Social Security.

A few days after Gov. Schwarzenegger made his mid-century predictions, officials at the National Coal Show in Pittsburgh gave their assessment of 2050.  The coal industry predicts an increase in coal usage overall as well as a small increase in market share for coal-fired electric generation.  Either each party is mostly wrong in its forecast or one of them is totally wrong.  These two predicted outcomes, zero emissions and business as usual, cannot mesh as stated.

Next to electric power generation, coal’s other big market is steelmaking.  The industry has far too much capacity in basic steelmaking because there is so much scrap steel being recycled.  There is so much scrap steel lying around now that some experts predict that an equilibrium point is near and only a small amount of new steel will be needed annually in the future.  Recycling uses far less energy and produces less GHG than does making steel from scratch.

Coal demand has its boom and bust cycles.  If the nation takes a hard left turn off the King Coal Highway, as recently evidenced by California’s pace car, then we must ask ourselves: Is the current coal boom the last one ever?  Is it the next to last?

We would do well to consider California’s actions when predicting coal’s future and its impact on West Virginia’s economy.  It is more likely that the Left Coast of America decides our energy future than will our optimistic friends who attended this year’s National Coal Show.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Let's Take Stock of Our Various Addictions

One of the best things happening in West Virginia is the reporting by West Virginia Media’s I-Team. I can say that because a.) I am a news junkie and analyze the news, and b.) The State Journal pays me not a cent for my opinion. This is not a paid endorsement for West Virginia Media.

In the past months, the I-Team has presented in-depth investigations about drug and gambling addiction. I was most surprised to learn of the extent of Methadone use across the state. Even by charging addicts about $11 per day, state-sanctioned Methadone clinics are very profitable.

The number of Methadone addicts is particularly telling as they are not part of the underground market. They have chosen Methadone primarily to try to escape their addiction to prescription painkillers. With this level of what can be called "legitimate addiction", what can we deduce about the underground market for narcotics?

That question is best answered by another I-Team report that revealed "meth" labs are busted daily. Crystal methamphetamine is an entrepreneur’s dream-the cost of capital and raw materials are remarkably cheap. The moonshiners of old didn’t have it this good-they needed corn which meant an investment in land. If a Methadone clinic, with its investment in a facility, its taxable status, and burdensome paperwork requirements, is very profitable, then meth lab chemists must be raking it in.

Gambling has always thrived in our state. But the nature of gambling has changed dramatically since the voters approved the lottery in 1984. All one needs to do is review the growth in personal bankruptcies resultant from gambling to understand this change. Though not reported in this light, the ever-increasing arrests for embezzlement around the state often are the result of the bookkeeper’s drug or gambling habits.

There are moral issues with addiction. There is also the undeniable charge that state government is culpable in many ways for these addictions. Workers Comp was the leading purveyor of Oxycontin until it changed rules last year. And as for gambling, politicians are the true addicts. But as Professor G. H. Dorr once noted during an endless dialogue, "And what, to flog a horse that if not at this point dead is in mortal danger of expiring," is the point of this column? Economic impact is.

It has always been difficult for economists to value the underground economy. However, since a state-owned computer now tracks nearly every gambling transaction taking place in West Virginia, we have a good data source to calculate the total dollars that West Virginians bet. Using a myriad of other clues, such as drug bust results and Methadone sales, we can also better estimate the amount of cash leaving people’s wallets to pay for illegal drugs.

I would suggest that $1 billion per year is a good starting point in estimating drug and gambling addiction spending.

In our current situation, the multiplier effect of this spending is minimal at best. Though gambling money balances the state budget, let’s examine what it buys. Our brand new jails and prisons are overfilled. The courts are clogged with drug cases. A certain portion of Medicaid and welfare benefits is spent helping addicts to either pursue or recover from their addictions. In all, the state’s legally-derived gambling revenue doesn’t offset the direct economic cost of drug and gambling addiction let alone provide for economic growth.

On the other hand, look at the effect that spending $1 billion per year on new housing would have. Or spend it on new cars. Or spend that rich sum at WalMart, Target, and Best Buy. Then you would have job creation and a multiplier effect as high as 6:1. The taxes levied on this new business growth alone might exceed the state’s current gambling take. Plus, the economy would continue to grow year by year and we would not have to be 49th again (and again.)

If West Virginia hopes to have any kind of economic turnaround at all, drug and gambling addiction have to be all but eliminated. Moving Sudafed to different shelves and voting down table games won’t solve the dilemma. It will take political outrage, the kind currently directed at the Pentagon over 8 aircraft, to make even a dent in the situation.

In a year or two, or perhaps even three, offshore Internet gambling will likely obliterate state gambling franchises. In its greed to raise taxes, the state has conditioned its citizenry to gamble via the video terminal. Someday soon, our gamblers will realize that Cyberspace pays better odds and the state will learn the true cost of its gambling addiction.

Stay tuned to the I-Team for that report.

Professor G. H. Dorr is the character played by Tom Hanks in "Ladykillers".

Friday, April 29, 2005

Hillary Actually Meant To Say, "… THE Village"

Can we even imagine the excitement that Hillary Rodham felt when she made her first contact with Eleanor Roosevelt?  Our cute little First-Lady-To-Be, that darling blonde wonder from the Chicago suburbs, that dreamer of building villages must have shivered with joy when the Grande Dame of Hyde Park appeared in her bedroom on that dark and stormy night!

This was Hillary’s chance to learn of such phenomena as immortality and the magic of transforming a doll house into a living, breathing community.  Little Hillary was raised in a Republican household and she had tired of lifeless, conservative-minded, rag dolls.  If only she could learn how to cast Eleanor’s magic spell, then Hillary knew she could make her dollhouse come to life.

So fanciful was she of her hoped-for séance with Eleanor that little Hillary wrote in her diary of her belief in immortality (although one transcription service derived the word as "immorality.")  Though raised in a conservative household that disdained communicating with dead liberals, Hillary’s parents nonetheless allowed her flights of fancy.  Hillary recalled how her mother had told her, "You were named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mt. Everest!"  That Tenzing Norgay dragged Edmund Hillary uphill for six miles in 1953 made no difference to the blonde child born in 1947.  She took her given name, and her given immor[t]ality, to heart.

Eleanor had transformed her dollhouse into many villages during her physical life.  But Arthurdale, the West Virginia commune, was the Grand Dame’s most magical village of all.  And that night in Hillary’s bedroom, Eleanor revealed the secret that made it so.

"You have to find a way to be the First Lady; even if that means marrying your cousin!" Eleanor beamed.  "With that position, you wield the power of the federal purse-a power so great that the down-and-out’s will move into your village."

But Hillary yearned for more than mere fealty from her subjects.  She had read enough fairy tales by then to know that the peasants obeyed the king but always loved their princess.  So she inquired of the matronly spirit, "How would I make the villagers love me?"

"That’s the least of your worries, child." Eleanor bespoke.  "Give them government checks, and they’ll do the rest."

As you know, Hillary (Norgay, in Nepalese) Rodham grew up to be a First Lady.  But in a subsequent séance in 1993, Eleanor Roosevelt advised her thusly: "Why don’t you just write up your village plan for now.  Then you can get yourself elected president and turn the whole continent into a village!"

It was a no-brainer and Hillary soon after hired a ghostwriter.

Well, she should have waited a few years in my opinion.  She should have hired M. Night Shyamalan, the writer/director of "The Village."  If you have seen the movie, then you’d know that Hillary would never have mentioned the "vast, right-wing conspiracy."  No, she would have referred to the vast, right-wing conspiracy as "Those we do not speak of."

At the outset, The Village appears to be a nineteenth century haven in rural Pennsylvania.  There are no telephones, no electric poles, and no running water.  In short, it’s the perfect village plan for the blonde executive who doesn’t want to be bothered with trifling complications like infrastructure.  The denizens of The Village are not consumed by questions like: "Does water run uphill or downhill?"

As perfect as it is, The Village does have a one ghastly drawback-the neighbors.  Ogres live in the woods surrounding the enclave and venturing into the woods means certain death.  As evil and ugly as the ogres are, they still serve the idyllic hamlet with a needed purpose.  True evil lives in "the towns" that lie beyond the forest and the ogre-patrolled forest keeps the evil of the towns at bay.  Utopia, we learn, does come with a price-learnéd ignorance.

The Villagers are not living in the nineteenth century as we initially believe.  They are modern-day denizens who have sought to escape the forces of Darwin that wreak havoc on Philadelphia.  Each villager has a tale of horror and their elder, played convincingly by William Hurt, has engineered their retreat from society.  His village is not financed by Uncle Sam but by the next best thing-inheritance of his father’s billions.

The movie’s ending is intriguing.  "The Village" does indeed have a village idiot, Noah, who stabs his friend, Lucius, in a jealous rage.  To save Lucius’ life, his blind fiancé volunteers to enter the woods and travel to the towns to procure medicine.  As she stumbles through the forest, Noah attacks her but he is killed in a fall.

William Hurt then immortalizes Noah.  He forgives Noah of his murderous attempts and declares that Noah’s masquerade as an ogre has given realism to "Those we do not speak of."  He tells the other elders that Noah’s acts will allow The Villagers to continue on with their isolation and beliefs.

Imagine that-giving a full pardon to the evildoer in the closing moments of the drama.  I wonder where M. Night Shyamalan got that idea?

Friday, April 1, 2005

Running Government As A Business

Bob Graham, Executive Director of the Wyoming County Council on Aging, made headlines last year when his lucrative compensation package was revealed.  The snorts of moral indignation could be heard everywhere and echoes are still bouncing off the hills.  And the question still being asked is how could Bob Graham earn nearly $500,000 in a poor little place like Wyoming County ?

The answer to that question is simple-he had an employment contract.  It was spelled out-in English.

What is amazing, to me at least, is that Bob Graham could manage all of the programs under his control with such economy that he could pay himself in Enron dollars instead of West Virginia dollars.  From what I have read, Mr. Graham earned $460,000 in 2003 and the agencies under his control took in combined revenues of $5.3 million.  His compensation package, then, was close to 9% of gross revenue.  $4.3 million of that revenue came from Medicaid.  Yet we repeatedly hear from health care experts that Medicaid reimbursements don’t cover the cost of service.  Go figure.

Wyoming County ’s revelation leads me to believe that there are some significant efficiencies yet to be discovered in running senior centers and home health programs.  Even if Mr. Graham had been paid $100,000, then that still leaves almost 7% of gross revenue which could have been shaved from the budget.  Applying a 7% reduction to senior programs in all 55 counties would certainly add up to a big savings.  And our seniors in the other 54 counties would be able to lounge in hot tubs just like Wyoming County seniors do!

If I were dictator of this state, I’d hire Bob Graham as a consultant.  He can milk cows better than the Amish.  (As talented as he is, though, he should not have milked sacred cows outside of Hindu territory.)

I’d pay Bombay Bob $1 million a year and give him 20% of all the money he’d save the state during years one and two of his contract.  I’d bet that he could save the taxpayers tenfold or more over what he charged.

As your dictator, I’d also consider hiring former Randolph County Clerk Rose Lloyd as a consultant.  Ms. Lloyd recently resigned her office over accounting irregularities.  She’s agreed to make restitution to the county in the amount of $48,000 over five years.

Given her years of experience in county government, I think Ms. Lloyd could make a valuable investigator with the State Tax Department.  Ms. Lloyd would not be relegated to adding columns of numbers.  Her contribution would be in recommending tighter financial and accounting controls.  She knows how the system works and where the weaknesses are.  In that regard, her experience, although tainted, is invaluable.

What I have just suggested might sound like heresy.  It is.  But on Scout’s honor, I promise that I would be a benevolent dictator!

All kidding aside, the rerouting of public money by Mr. Graham and Ms. Lloyd is nothing new.  These two culprits just happen to be the names in the news right now.

Government financial systems are ripe for finagling.  Across the state, there are thousands upon thousands of accounts and funds which receive and disburse tax money and few of them ever get as much as a cursory audit.  Using the case of the Randolph County Clerk’s office as an example, the state’s auditor discovered some $13,000 missing over a three-month period.  The $48,000 settlement to which Ms. Lloyd agreed was a number pulled out of thin air.  Auditors have not thoroughly examined Randolph County financial records to determine the actual embezzlement.  For all we know, ten million dollars could be missing.

Each government grant is supposed to be accounted for as well.  But as we recently learned in Hampshire County, education grant money was misdirected-deliberately, no less.

Gov. Joe Manchin has taken the first step toward improving financial accounting in West Virginia.  He deserves a commendation for his initiatives to modernize the State Tax Department’s computer system.  But this first step, as big as it is, is not going to solve all of the problems.

Whether it’s county governments, boards of education, councils on aging, or the myriad of other entities that receive and spend taxpayer money, the state needs to rein in their ability to operate as personal fiefdoms.  Giving a checkbook to every Tom, Dick, and Boss Hogg is what causes these problems in the first place.

Gov. Manchin is doing his best to apply good business practices to running state government.  That said, we should consider requiring each and every government spending unit to provide us, the shareholders, with audited financial statements.  And along the lines of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, we should get serious about holding the chefs who cook the books liable for their acts.

Friday, March 4, 2005

Bait Shop Owners Find Nemo! Collect Reward Money.

The thing I like most about the State Journal is its spotlight on small business. No other West Virginia publication dedicates itself to celebrating successful entrepreneurs quite like this newspaper does. I wish we had more of these stories to read.

In American society, small businesses play an important role in two critical areas-the creation of wealth and preservation of democracy. Yet the political class in our state has ignored these distinctions ever since New Deal theology became their official religion. For seven decades now, the New Dealers have been the uncontested ruling party and it is not surprising that small businesses are a small part of our economy. In West Virginia, growing an ever-bigger government (and increasingly, enshrining monopolies or oligopolies) has been promoted as our only opportunity to achieve prosperity.

West Virginia has gone out of its way to stifle small business development. To illustrate this point, let me relate that I know of two area businesses that closed their shops for the same reason-Wal-Mart was selling these shops’ most popular items at prices less than the shops could buy them at wholesale.

Ordinarily, one could fall back on the argument that Wal-Mart is an efficient behemoth that understands retail better than anyone else to explain the demise of their small competitors. But that argument fails in this case, at least in part, because the City of Clarksburg reportedly offered Wal-Mart $6-8 million in tax abatements to locate there. For a period of time, the city also stationed a police detachment inside of the Super Wal-Mart store. To my knowledge, the actual total cost of these subsidies has not been made public.

As Marlin asks in "Finding Nemo": With friends like these, who needs anemones?

As surprising as this may sound, the City of Clarksburg is not at fault in this instance. West Virginia’s antiquated tax code is. Clarksburg had no choice but to enter a bidding war for the Super Wal-Mart lest one of four neighboring incorporated towns reel it in. And if it’s not Wal-Mart, it’s another big project. For the past three decades, Clarksburg has survived financially only because of the business and occupation taxes collected on construction of new stores and government buildings.

A perfect example of this frenzy is the F. B. I. facility, better known in these parts as the Fingerprint Factory because it was touted as an economic development project. Clarksburg fought hard to ‘shoestring’ annex the faraway Fingerprint Factory because of the revenue that the construction taxes would bring in. In the long run, the federal facility is a tax-loser for the city. Its annexation has increased sprawl. And sprawl all but guarantees that dead zones, such as the old business district, stay dead. Clarksburg, however, has no choice but to live for the short term and find the quick tax fix.

Until such time as state government allows cities the right to draft a modern tax code, we will continue on this destructive path. Our cities and counties also need to merge governments. If for no other reason, it will prevent them from cannibalizing one another in order to tax the next Wal-Mart or Fingerprint Factory.

In looking forward, small business development should be the state’s top priority when making any of these changes. A good example of what to do and what not to do can be learned from the Cabela’s case.

In 1961, Dick Cabela started selling fishing flies by mail order. For a time, Mr. Cabela ran the business from his kitchen table. Cabela’s has grown steadily ever since and the company went public last year. Coincidental with the IPO was a financial gift from West Virginia taxpayers to Cabela’s estimated to be $85 million. While June 25, 2004 was a grand payday for Cabela’s shareholders, we didn’t even get a share of stock!

The next Dick Cabela, that aspiring young man with a bankable idea, is presently living in West Virginia. But he’s not planning on staying here any longer than he has to. He’s headed to a territory where entrepreneurship is prized, not penalized. Should we blame him?

I have a hard time faulting either Wal-Mart or Cabela’s for running sting operations. First of all, both of these giants started out with one man (Sam Walton and Dick Cabela, respectively) mapping strategy at his kitchen table-the epitome of entrepreneurial spirit. And second, if fools want to game each other for the right to stuff cash into corporate pockets, then why should we expect Wal-Mart or Cabela’s to refuse it? 

West Virginia needs to go back to the (kitchen) table.

Friday, February 4, 2005

WVU Offers Lessons in "Cancer Stories"

The men and women you will meet in "Cancer Stories" are the bravest of the brave; they personify courage and integrity better than any model that I know.  Please cherish the moments that you spend with them for they and their families have made great personal sacrifices to bring you their stories.
   David G. Allen, "Cancer Stories"

If I sent you a one-hour video documentary about cancer, I doubt that you’d bother to watch it.

If I attached a note saying Ken Burns gave it his "Thumbs up!", then maybe you might.

If I pasted a flashy, "Emmy Winner!" sticker on the video, then maybe you’d put it in the "When I get time." pile.

What would you do, though, if I sent you a one-hour video and told you that it will help you answer the age-old question, "What is the meaning of life?"

The video and its companion book are "Cancer Stories: Lessons in Love, Loss and Hope."  Some of you have already seen it.  "Cancer Stories" premiered on WVPBS in December 2003 and has been re-broadcast.  The four stations owned by WV Media, which also owns the State Journal, also aired "Cancer Stories" (2004), uncut and commercial-free.

Most of you, and nearly all of America, are not aware of "Cancer Stories."  It is my intent here to change that.

Cancer remains the most dreaded diagnosis.  As soon as the doctor utters the word, the patient’s mind starts asking, "How long do I have?"  Not only does cancer instantly confront us with our mortality but it also makes us realize that the treatment will be a long and grueling ordeal.

I have long wanted to record the impact of the cancer diagnosis and the early days of the patient’s treatment.  Too often, we read only the testimonials written by cancer survivors.  We need these testimonials-for inspiration, and for science.  But testimonials do not tell the whole story.

As we age, we lose loved ones to cancer.  In subtle ways, we harden, or perhaps callous, our emotions to protect us from the next loss.  It’s perfectly natural that we react this way.  But it is precisely for this reason that older, experienced reporters cannot truly report the cancer story.  So it came into my mind that the ideal reporter for this story should be the young, curious, and unjaded, journalism student. 

I was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center 2000.  From that vantage, I felt I had the standing to propose this project to West Virginia University President, David C. Hardesty, Jr.  The concept was simple enough.  Students from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism would interview patients being treated at the MBRCC and WVU Press would publish their stories.

The "Cancer Project", as it was first called, was embraced across the WVU campus.  But it could not have happened without the support of eight wonderful cancer patients.  They are the men and women who have completely opened their lives to you and to the rest of the world.  They sacrificed their privacy so that you might have less of an ordeal when cancer comes knocking on your door.

When I say the patients sacrificed their privacy, I mean exactly that.  The student reporters were not only invited into the exam room but they were also invited into the patient’s home.  It is this unique, fly-on-the-wall perspective that allows you the audience  to share each cancer story as if you were a member of the family.

The doctors and medical staff at MBRCC are to be commended for the important roles they played in this project.  Before work began, the journalism students attended lectures on cancer, medical terminology, and treatment options.  Their extensive preparation allowed the students to be professionals on assignment.

You will, of course, see the doctors in their role as doctors.  But perhaps, for the first time, you will also see the emotional rollercoaster that cancer doctors also ride.

Thirty journalism students recorded "Cancer Stories" in print, photographs, and video.  The 220-page book comes with a DVD of the documentary.  In June 2004, the video documentary won the Midwestern Regional Emmy award in the Informational Programming category.  All of us who have worked on the project believe that the book will be heralded just as prominently.

West Virginia University has garnered high praise from its peers in academia and healthcare.  "Cancer Stories" is being considered nationally as a teaching medium for medical students.  And Journalism schools across the country are now considering similar "real life" reporting classes for their curricula.

To order your copy of "Cancer Stories", please visit or dial 1-866-WVUPRESS. [1-866-988-7737]

Friday, January 21, 2005

Driving Through Fantasyland on Cruise Control

Dr. Tom Witt and his colleagues at WVU have issued an excellent (and sobering) report on the State Road Fund. While you may have already read comments by Dr. Witt and Transportation Secretary Fred VanKirk about the report, I believe that there is one paragraph that you need to read for yourself. It appears in the accompanying text box.

"In comparing the West Virginia highway system in 1984 with that of the present highway system, several characteristics have remained unchanged. These include ranking first in the percentage of highways under state jurisdiction, last in vehicle miles driven per capita and per licensed driver, and first in total highway miles per capita. One characteristic that has changed is the reliance on annual appropriations from the state General Revenue Fund. In 1982, West Virginia was ranked first of the fifty states in the percentage of annual appropriations from the General Revenue Fund. At present, the West Virginia State Road Fund receives no appropriations from the General Revenue Fund; the last annual appropriation from the General Revenue Fund occurred in 1983."

Future of West Virginia’s Highway System, p.5; Drs. Tom S. Witt, Patrick C. Mann, Mehmet S. Tosun; 2004

The state put the Road Fund on cruise control in 1984 when it was decided that only dedicated user taxes would have to carry the highway budget. It should be obvious that when you rank first in highway miles per capita and last in vehicle miles driven per capita that a user fee revenue system will not keep pace with expenditures.

A second flaw in cruise control budgeting is that WV Code §11-14-5(3) exempts the state’s biggest fleet of vehicles, school buses, from paying motor fuel taxes. Big yellow school buses may not damage the roads the way coal trucks do, but buses wear out roads just the same as medium-weight trucks do. Perhaps even more, since we heavily salt bus routes in wintertime.

And the third flaw is our elected political class. They have found a lot of new uses for gasoline taxes other than repairing roads. The Courtesy Patrol and regional offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles have siphoned millions from the Road Fund. On a positive note, patronage jobs were created.

The elected political leaders will soon likely suggest to you that Road Fund user taxes need to be hiked. You will probably hear, "One more nickel per gallon is not much to pay for good roads!" Please, don’t believe this come on. Throw your nickels in a wishing well if you want, but don’t throw them at Charleston.

Once again: You cannot address the Road Fund’s insufficiency of user taxes by increasing those same user taxes when you are first in road mileage and last in usage. Even if you raise taxes, higher taxes will further reduce driving and fuel consumption. A tax cut, on the other hand, would likely improve the Road Fund. And any tax cut would most assuredly benefit the general retail economy. Follow the nickels.

According to the WVU report, "A comparison of West Virginia highway financing with that of surrounding states as well as Delaware and North Carolina shows that West Virginia had the highest per capita highway user tax revenue among these states in FY 2000." West Virginia’s regressive tax code already punishes working people. Do we dare nickel and dime them into 50th place?

There was a time when the legislature and governor understood that user taxes alone could not balance the highway budget. The solution was a transfer from General Revenue. The General Revenue transfer addressed the fact that school bus fuel is exempt from tax. The General Revenue transfer also took into account two other important points. First, contractors, material suppliers, vendors, and their employees who are paid by the Road Fund pay business and income taxes which go into the General Fund. This is a bigger drain on the Road Fund than you’d ever imagine. And second, most jurisdictions around the nation earmark a portion of real estate taxes for the maintenance of county or township roads. The transfer tried to address the fact that, in our state, property taxes do not support local roads.

General Revenue Fund transfers did not make for a perfect system of funding the highway budget. But one thing they did do was to cause the legislature and governor to examine and prioritize annual spending. Once the highway budget went on cruise control, however, the #1 priority eventually became the Budget Digest.

The other side of the highway budget has to do with costs. In this space last May, I reported that a flag person was paid $30.01 per hour on highway projects. The flag person pay rate has since risen to $30.51 and won’t stop there. If paying a flag person more money than a nurse earns doesn’t convince you that changes are needed, then there is no use discussing highway cost issues any further.

Addressing the problems outlined in "Future of West Virginia’s Highway System" will require decisive cost cutting as well as General Revenue Fund transfers. The decisions will not be politically popular. They never were, of course, and that’s how we ended up on cruise control in 1984.