WASHINGTON — The nomination of Neera Tanden to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget was thrown in doubt last week as Sen. Joe Manchin became the first Democratic lawmaker to oppose her confirmation.
During her confirmation hearings, Tanden apologized for spending years attacking top Republicans on social media. She is a former adviser to Hillary Clinton and served as president of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. With the Senate evenly divided between 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats, she’ll likely need support from at least one Republican to win confirmation.
“I believe her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget,`` Manchin said in a statement. He went on to say that, at a time of grave crisis, “it is more important than ever that we chart a new bipartisan course that helps address the many serious challenges facing our nation.’’
It’s the first real test that Biden has faced on a nomination, with most of his picks for Cabinet positions sailing through the chamber with bipartisan support. Tanden had also disparaged some Democrats on social media, most notably Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont. The White House said Friday it was sticking by Tanden.
“Neera Tanden is an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent Budget Director and we look forward to the committee votes next week and to continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Tanden would be the first woman of color to lead the OMB, which leads efforts to ensure an administration’s priorities are reflected in legislation and regulations.
The Senate Budget Committee is scheduled to vote on her nomination next week.
House OKs bill to
allow private school savings accounts
CHARLESTON (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates advanced a bill last week to allow publicly funded savings accounts for students to attend private schools over vehement opposition from Democrats and educators that the move would be costly, unnecessary and discriminatory.
The Republican-led House passed the bill on a 60-39 vote. One member was absent. The bill now goes to the state Senate.
The program, named the Hope Scholarship, would put state money into a special account that parents could then spend on private school tuition, homeschooling and other educational needs. It would allow private and homeschooled students to participate, pushing the cost to the state to more than $100 million annually. The funding would be capped at $4,600 per child.
Democrats dominated the debate on the bill that lasted more than an hour.
Delegates earlier this week defeated amendments proposed by Democrats that would have capped the number of students receiving the vouchers and would have excluded higher-income families from receiving the funding. Most private schools in West Virginia are Christian. Democrat-sought protections in the bill for students against discrimination based on religion and LGBT status were rejected.
Putnam County Republican Joshua Higginbotham said he is proud of his public school background and assured skeptics there are plenty of bills within the House education committee that would try to beef up the public education system.
“But we have to give opportunity for people who can’t afford to attend a private school or to be homeschooled,’’ Higginbotham said. “That is exactly what this bill does. That’s why it’s the Hope Scholarship.’’
Cabell County Democrat Sean Hornbuckle said the bill will use taxpayer funds to support a religion-based education and won’t help rural students who have transportation issues to private schools. He and other Democrats said it won’t do enough to help disabled students.
“As this bill is currently reading, it is the Hoax Scholarship,’’ Hornbuckle said.
Kanawha County Democrat Larry Rowe said how the program will be paid for remains a mystery because the fiscal aspects were not spelled out.
“We don’t have good financial information with this bill,” Rowe said. “We’re left with pure speculation about the cost of this bill.’’
Earlier this week the House passed a bill to increase the number of charter schools allowed in West Virginia every three years from three to 10 and allow for online-only charter schools. Charters schools were allowed under a 2019 bill signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Educators and Democrats argue that the move to install charters and education vouchers was driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.
Kanawha County Democrat Jim Barach said the bill would create “a two-tiered system of education where the have-somes and the have-mores get to go to private schools. And everyone else goes to underfunded public schools. And we’re going to end up with a lot of people ending up on the short end of the stick.’’
Tens of thousands still without
CHARLESTON — Some residents in Kentucky and West Virginia could be spending several more days without power as crews work to fix broken utility poles and downed lines from an ice storm.
Appalachian Power said about 39,000 customers in southern West Virginia were without electricity Sunday. Some homes have been without power since back-to-back ice storms Feb. 11 and Feb. 15. The utility planned to use helicopters and drones Sunday to identify problems in remote areas.
More than 50 percent, or about 13,000, of the utility’s customers in Wayne County were without power Sunday. An additional 10,000 customers had no service in Cabell County.
Outages peaked at 97,000 customers in southern West Virginia after the latest storm hit.
Power to most customers was expected to be restored by Tuesday, the utility said. Repairs were needed in at least 1,400 separate locations. Crews estimated that 550 broken poles and about 2,400 spans of wire must be replaced to return all customers to service.
The utility had more than 3,200 workers in the field trying to restore power, and 27 mobile bunkhouses were set up at a mall in Barboursville to house them. Area hotels also were filled to capacity.
In Kentucky, about 33,000 customers remained without service Sunday, including more than 14,000 Kentucky Power customers in the eastern part of the state, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that tracks outages. The remainder of the outages were spread out among various electric cooperatives.
Most of the remaining Kentucky Power outages were in Boyd and Lawrence counties. More than 2,000 Kentucky Power employees, foresters and assessors were working to restore power. The utility estimated power to most customers should be back on by Wednesday, but later in some areas of Carter County.
More than 59,000 of the utility’s customers lost power in eastern Kentucky after the latest storm hit.
Companies donate food, cash to
university student pantry
MORGANTOWN — Two food companies are contributing cash and other items to the student food pantry at West Virginia University.
Kroger Mid-Atlantic contributed more than $50,000 in cash and equipment, and Kraft Heinz donated more than $10,000 in cash, food items and coolers for The Rack, the school said in a news release.
The pantry has expanded to meet demand that has grown in recent years. The donations allowed the pantry to add shelving, new refrigeration and freezer units and updated painting and signage, the release said.
The Rack has served more than 14,000 students since it opened in 2010, the university said.
Food insecurity is an increasing problem on college campuses, with nearly 36 percent of West Virginia University students struggling with access to food on a regular basis, the school said.
Toyota to increase
BUFFALO (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp. announced last week it is investing an additional $210 million at a West Virginia plant that will bring 100 new jobs.
Toyota said it will upgrade equipment and machinery for existing six-cylinder engine production while increasing assembly capacity of its four-cylinder engine line at the Japanese automaker’s plant in Buffalo, West Virginia.
Toyota expects to complete the upgrades and job hirings by the second half of 2022.
“Today’s announcement represents Toyota’s continued commitment to our customers as well as our community,’’ Srini Matam, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, said in a statement.
The new jobs will establish a third shift at the Buffalo plant due to a significant increase in Rav4 engine production. The plant will assemble an additional 5,900 engines per month.
Toyota expects to complete the upgrades and job hirings by the second half of 2022.
“This is such exciting news for West Virginia’s business community as well as our families that businesses are choosing to grow their organizations here,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said. “Toyota is a wonderful example of how a global company can be successful right here in West Virginia.’’
The announcement brings Toyota’s total investment at the 2 million square-foot facility in West Virginia to more than $1.8 billion and more than 2,000 jobs.
The plant, which will commemorate its 25th anniversary this year, produces nearly 1 million engines and transmissions annually.
being accepted for Governor’s Schools
CHARLESTON — Applications are being accepted from West Virginia high school students for the Governor’s School for the Arts and the Governor’s Honors Academy.
The West Virginia Department of Education said it will hold the events online and in partnership with Marshall University this summer.
There is no cost to students or their families.
The Governor’s School for the Arts, for current sophomores, gives in-depth instruction in acting, creative writing, dance, digital media art, instrumental and vocal music and studio art.
The Governor’s Honors Academy gives students a chance to explore theories in the arts and sciences and understand how art, culture and knowledge change with time.
More information is available online. Applications are being accepted through March 12.
Conservation fund taking applications for grants
CHARLESTON (AP) — The West Virginia Outdoor Heritage Conservation Fund is taking applications for grants, with up to $450,000 to be awarded.
Applications may be submitted until April 2 for small and large grants. Grant selections are expected to be made by May 15, the state Division of Forestry said in a news release.
More information is available online.
Land protection projects can include wildlife habitats, working forests and farmlands, and hunting, fishing and outdoor recreational areas.
Applicants can use the eligibility assessment linked to the fund’s website to determine whether their projects qualify for funding.
settles suit over mine
CHARLESTON — A coal company controlled by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice must pay $270,000 to a nonprofit land protection group and comply with selenium discharge limits under a settlement approved by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge David Faber approved the settlement last week, two months after environmental groups filed the proposed agreement with Bluestone Coal Corp., news sources reported.
Last year Faber found the company liable for selenium discharges into waters near a McDowell County mine. High selenium concentrations can be toxic to humans and animals.
Under the agreement, Bluestone must provide quarterly progress reports on pollutant discharge monitoring to several environmental groups, which had sued under the federal Clean Water and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation acts.
The company also must pay a $30,000 federal fine and $270,000 to the West Virginia Land Trust to help finance development of a trail along the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River. Bluestone already has paid $414,500 for selenium violations from June 2018 to June 2020.
Bluestone had unsuccessfully sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that a 2016 agreement between Southern Coal Corp. — another company owned by the Justice family — and the federal Environmental Protection Agency precluded environmental groups from filing the selenium lawsuit.