ALERT: BIG BOYS COMETH – WV Legislature Ruling “Your Land Is Their Land,” Forced Pooling?

YOUR LAND IS THEIR LAND?
The issue of a citizen owning land and mineral rights would seem to be a settled deal in the USA, but for years large oil and gas corporations have been challenging that ownership with “forced pooling,” particularly since the Marcellus Shale Boom.

It brings to mind Woody Guthrie’s famous song “This Land Is Your Land.” Story to follow. – Bob Weaver

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me

I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me

As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tresspassin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

Your Land is Their Land, It Isn’t Your Land

By Christopher Regan

After the disastrous ending to WVU’s terrific men’s basketball season, I turned off the TV in disgust. The tape will show that Adrian was fouled. A tournament that had been marred by poor officiating had come to an end for a great West Virginia team.

But while most West Virginians mourned the loss to Gonzaga, a small group of us stayed busy. The Republican-controlled judiciary committee of the State Senate worked into the wee hours last Friday morning. What could have inspired them to stay at work so late, after such a big game?

It wouldn’t be something they wanted to take credit for – if it was that they’d have done it in broad daylight, with TV cameras, ribbon cuttings, and press releases. It must have been something they did not want West Virginians to see. The legislation passed out of committee under cover of darkness, near the dark of the moon, and in the fog of an NCAA tournament hangover.

The bill was, of course, forced pooling. “Forced pooling” has been the apple of the gas companies’ eyes since the shale gas boom began. What is forced pooling? In the simplest terms, forced pooling means that if you own land and the rights to the minerals underneath, and you don’t want to sell, tough. The company can take it.

Your land is their land, it isn’t your land.

Once the gas company has made a “reasonable effort to negotiate” with you, they can run you over and take what they want and pay you what someone else thinks is fair. This is done to “[e]ncourage the maximum recovery of oil and gas.” No doubt it will also “encourage the payment of campaign contributions” to the lawmakers who shove it through.

Of course, this doesn’t work in reverse. If the gas company owns something you want, you can’t just make a “reasonable effort to negotiate” with them, and when they won’t give, you get to take it. This forced pooling law passed late at night is a special privilege for the gas companies, not for regular people. This law is their law, it isn’t your law.

What can we say about politicians that give away our most sacred rights to corporations? Didn’t they campaign on the constitution? Aren’t they supposed to be protecting the citizens of this state – the voters who let them have their positions in government? What happened to all that freedom we were supposed to get?

The gas industry has made billions since the shale boom started. The only downside for them appears to be having to deal with the common landowners and negotiate a price before they could drill. If people didn’t want to sell, they didn’t have to, because people used to have rights to do what they wanted with their own property. Some chose to sell, others didn’t – that’s the American Way.

But the American Way isn’t good enough for corporate America – they want it their way, all the way, every time. To get it, they elected a gaggle of Republicans willing to put in laws that let them take what they want from people who don’t want to sell it. The law calls those people “nonconsenting cotenants.”

You used to be a citizen, a landowner, and an American. Now you’re just a “nonconsenting cotenant,” standing in the way of what the gas company wants – your gas. And the gas company will fix you up good – armed with their new law, they take what they want and if you try to stop them, they’ll bring the judge and the sheriff down on top of you.

Our rights to our own property trace their heritage all the way back to England and the Magna Carta. A man’s home was his castle, and as William Pitt put it:

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail — its roof may shake — the wind may blow through it — the storm may enter — the rain may enter — but the King of England cannot enter — all his force dares not cross the threshold.

So much for that. The King of England and William Pitt didn’t know regular people might own valuable shale gas. So now the Kings in Charleston are putting a stop to the “defiant” West Virginians. They are slapping an “open for business” sign on those humble cottages. The new rule is that the powerful gas companies can take what they want from citizens, who are now reduced to the peon-like status of “nonconsenting cotenants.”

The only way to fight this kind of law is at the ballot box. Everybody owns something, even if it’s not valuable mineral rights. The politicians who don’t respect your property can’t be allowed to stay in office – and before anyone asks me, yes, that goes for Democrats as well as Republicans who sign on to this thievery. If they’ll force you to sell your land, nothing you own, and nothing your neighbors own is safe.

Write down the name of every one of them that votes for this bill, and remember it in eighteen months when we get another chance to vote. Then vote against them no matter what. That’s how we can tell the politicians what they need to hear: this land is our land.

– Christopher Regan is the former Vice-Chair of the West Virginia Democratic Party and an attorney at Bordas & Bordas in Wheeling, WV.

Police: Current, past Boone school board members under investigation

Giuseppe Sabella , Staff Writer

West Virginia State Police are investigating Mark Sumpter, a former member of the Boone County Board of Education, and Danny Cantley, a current member, as part of an embezzlement case that led to the arrest of two others earlier this month.

Cantley is listed as a current board member on the Boone County Schools website, along with a criminal complaint filed in Boone County Magistrate Court on March 8.

Sumpter left his position as the board’s president in late October 2016. In a past interview, Sumpter said personal issues and his plans to leave the county led to the resignation.

Cpl. Dean Brinegar, who is investigating the case, confirmed both Sumpter and Cantley are being investigated.

“They received property that was paid for by Boone County Schools,” he alleged.

Brinegar said more information about the ongoing investigation will likely be available in the coming weeks.
Earlier this month, police arrested two employees of the Boone County Schools Transportation Department after they allegedly stole more than $20,000 through fraudulent purchases.

David Jarrell, who served as the transportation director, and Tracy Harvey, who worked as a mechanic, reportedly bought tires, lift kits, mud flaps and a host of other goods for their own use.

Authorities charged Jarrell and Harvey with embezzlement and fraudulent schemes. Before their arraignment, both men told police they made fraudulent purchases for Cantley and Sumpter, who are still under investigation.

After the initial arrests, Superintendent Jeff Huffman said the lost money could have gone toward employee salaries.

When it comes to the public school system’s more than 500 employees, the full-time professionals suffered a $3,800 to $4,000 salary cut in July, and the full-time service employees — including custodians and bus drivers — suffered a $3,650 to $3,850 salary cut.

Huffman, Sumpter and Cantley could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Reach Giuseppe Sabella at giuseppe.sabella@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or @Gsabella on Twitter

Senate Finance amends bill to raise property taxes for schools

Ryan Quinn , Staff Writer

West Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee changed Monday the bill that would cut about $79 million in state funding to public schools next fiscal year into more of a straightforward statewide county property tax increase bill.

In the new version of Senate Bill 609, county school boards could decide to opt out of the tax increase on their residents if they’re willing to take the significant financial hit. Kanawha County would see the largest total funding loss if it chose to completely opt out of the tax increase: $9.3 million.

The bill was amended in a voice vote, then it passed out of the committee to the Senate floor on a 12-6 party-line vote, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats opposed.

The previous version of SB 609 the Senate Education Committee passed would’ve cut the $79 million and newly allowed school boards to vote to opt in to increasing their regular levy property tax rates to make up for the state funding loss.

Amy Willard, executive director of the state Office of School Finance under the Department of Education, said if school boards raised their regular levy tax rates to the maximum allowed under the previous version of SB 609, they would effectively have no funding change next fiscal year.

The new version of the bill automatically would increase the regular levy rate to the maximum in each county. Willard said the current planned rate for class 2 property next fiscal year — owner-occupied residential property and farms — is 38.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, and the new rate under the bill would be 45.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

She previously has said the change would mean a person with a home appraised at $75,000 would pay $31.95 extra on his or her annual tax bill for that home, while someone would pay $42.60 extra on a $100,000 home.

“I know that my counties in the southwest coalfields are distressed,” said Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. “There is a lot of homes that are in bankruptcy, a lot of cars that are repossessed, a lot of people are trying to move, a lot of homes for sale, and the last thing they need is a tax increase.”

But he said he heard “optimistic news today that there are some things moving in the House that might actually raise some revenue for us, maybe a food tax, maybe a sales tax, that would pre-empt this.”
“I think we ought to have our big boy pants on and be able to do this ourselves without pushing it back to the counties,” Stollings said.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, noted on Saturday, Democrats and Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, expressed concerns about the previous version of the bill possibly violating the state Constitution and the Recht decision if not all school boards agreed to raise taxes.

“How is this any different from that perspective if we’re pushing everybody up and then some back it back down?” Palumbo asked.

In the landmark 1980s Recht decision, Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht found the state’s public schools failed to meet a “thorough and efficient” standard demanded by the state Constitution and ordered an overhaul of school financing with the idea that children from high and low property value counties should receive the same education.

“There are those people who believe that if the Recht decision were revisited the outcome may be different,” Hall said after the meeting. “So it’s not unconstitutional until a judge says it is.”

“It’s obvious that this bill has not made it all the way to passage, this is its first start, it’s not its destination, should other revenue sources surface, this bill will be absolutely unnecessary,” Hall said.

He said the Democrats are “in a position to vote no on any tax increases, and they’ve got us in an odd position of trying to find revenue,” for public education and other programs.

“They’re going to vote no so they can probably say to the voters out there, ‘Hey, we didn’t raise your taxes, they did,’ but the economy didn’t fall apart under us, it fell apart under them,” Hall said.

Reach Ryan Quinn at

ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn,

304-348-1254 or follow

@RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

Study: WV one of states most dependent on federal funding

Max Garland , Staff writer

The Mountain State finished fifth behind Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Alabama in the personal finance website WalletHub’s analysis of how much return each state sees on its federal income tax contributions.

The analysis, written by John Kiernan, comes less than a week after a blueprint of President Donald Trump’s budget was released. The budget proposed eliminating several federal programs and agencies with frequent activity in West Virginia, including the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Community Block Development Grant program.

“The federal budget cuts will be felt more in West Virginia than in states like Delaware, California or New Jersey,” said WalletHub analyst Lisa Gonzalez.

The analysis suggests the weaker a state’s economy is, the more federal funding it receives, Gonzalez said.

“We found a correlation between a state’s federal dependency and its per capita GDP, meaning that the least wealthy states tend to receive the most federal support,” she said.

Last year, groups in the state received $16.4 million in grants to spur economic development in the face of a declining coal industry, as part of then-President Barack Obama’s POWER initiative. The funding went toward entrepreneurial education in Charleston, an innovation business center in Buckhannon and workforce training programs with Coalfield Development, among other programs.

West Virginia received a federal funding dependency score of 68.97 out of 100, short of Kentucky’s top score of 76.16. WalletHub determined each state’s score by finding the sum of two different measurements: government dependency and resident dependency.

West Virginia ranks 15th for its government’s dependency on federal funding, according to the analysis. WalletHub measured the metric by calculating the proportion of state revenue that comes from the federal government in the form of intergovernmental aid. For West Virginia, that’s 34.79 percent.

The state ranks fifth for its residents’ federal dependency. The measurement uses the sum of return on taxes paid to the federal government (calculated by dividing federal funding by IRS collections) and the state’s share of federal jobs. West Virginia’s return on taxes is $2.12, which ranks sixth among all states, and its share of federal jobs is 3.33 percent, which also ranks sixth.
Sean O’Leary, a senior policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said West Virginia’s ranking is unsurprising when considering the state’s aging population. Its median age of 42.2 is about 10 percent higher than the national median of 37.8, according to 2014 Census data.

That demographic makeup means more funding is needed for Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, he said.

Entitlement programs are easily the largest part of federal assistance to the state, O’Leary said.

“Sure, there are going to be some other cuts that will hurt, but the big numbers belong to Social Security and Medicaid,” he said.

WalletHub asked five experts for its study if federal resources should instead be allocated based on how much each state pays in federal taxes. All of the experts said no.

“Should basic economic background conditions determine the quality of schools or roads or environmental protection or economic development efforts experienced by residents of different states?” asked Karen Baehler, a scholar in residence at American University. “Of course not. Cross-state subsidies are the only fair approach.”

However, the experts’ answers differed for what programs should the federal government be responsible for instead of state and local governments.

Jeffrey Chapman, a public finance professor at Arizona State University, said local governments should only fund services themselves when there are no cost savings from centralization and no government redundancy would occur.

“This means that local governments should provide such public services as police, fire, libraries, etc. and the federal government should provide services that are national public health goods with national externalities,” Chapman said. “Examples would be national defense, health care, income distribution programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and some environmental programs.”

O’Leary said with age being the primary driver behind West Virginia’s federal funding numbers, changes to the federal government’s current allocation system wouldn’t be fair.
“Since this is driven on demographics, I don’t think we should punish a state because they are young or old,” he said. “West Virginia has less tax burden right now, but what happens when the average age changes?”

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.