Gazette-Mail: Tobacco Tax Increase Would Send West Virginians to Community College

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collegeBy Samuel Speciale/Gazette-Mail

Sen. Jeff Kessler wants to make community and technical college in West Virginia free for qualifying students, a promise he said can be funded by raising the state’s tobacco tax.

On Monday, the Marshall County Democrat told the Gazette-Mail he will introduce tobacco tax legislation in January that could raise more than $100 million in additional revenue each year. That money will then be used for substance abuse programs and workforce development initiatives, including community and technical college financial aid akin to what is offered through the state’s Promise Scholarship.

Amidst a decade of cuts, the average in-state tuition has increased nearly 70 percent since 2004.

“What I’ve seen over the past few budget cycles is that we keep cutting funds to higher education,” Kessler said, adding that slashing the state’s budget, especially education appropriations, to favor tax breaks is “counterproductive” and prohibits economic growth.

“We’re trying to cut our way to prosperity,” he added. “And that’s just not happening.”

Funding for higher education in West Virginia has been reduced three times over the last three years. That has cut state spending on colleges and universities to its lowest level in almost a decade. Just this year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin approved more than $7 million in cuts to the state’s two-year and four-year colleges.

Amidst a decade of cuts, the average in-state tuition has increased nearly 70 percent, or nearly $2,400 since 2004, according to Higher Education Policy Commission data. Enrollment also has decreased.

“That makes it more cost prohibitive for our kids to go to college,” said Kessler, the state Senate Minority Leader. He also is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor.

Kessler’s plan is not new. If molded after his past attempts to raise the tobacco tax, it could increase West Virginia’s comparatively low tax of 55 cents per pack to $1.55 within three years.

Funding for higher education in West Virginia has been reduced three times over the last three years. That has cut state spending on colleges and universities to its lowest level in almost a decade.

The state’s current tax is 44th among states. At $1.55, it would be the 11th highest in the country.

Of surrounding states, only Virginia has a lower tobacco tax at 30 cents per pack. Kentucky has a 60-cent tax, while Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland charge $1.25, $1.60 and $2, respectively.

Only 26 percent of West Virginia’s working-age adults have at least a two-year degree, and only about 40 percent of the state’s 18- to 24-year-olds are currently enrolled in college. At 17.3 percent, West Virginia also has the lowest bachelor’s degree attainment rate in the country, nearly 11 percentage points below the national average.

Read the full story at wvgazettemail.com

Follow the author on Twitter @samueljspeciale

Ritchie County Mom Tackles Lack of Physical Activity Options in Rural WV

MegganThis week The Hub heard from an amazing woman in Ritchie County by the name of Meggan Hostuttler. Meggan has spent the last three years on a weight loss journey that has seen her lose 90 pounds and complete many 5K races and half marathons with her son, Logan. She is currently training for the NYC Marathon, raising money the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research.

But while Meggan says she was lucky to have a lot of help from her family and employer, many people in places like Ritchie County fight an uphill battle from the start as they do not have affordable access to things like gyms, healthy eating classes and daycare that are necessary to transform your lifestyle.

I’ll let Meggan tell you her story…


I was always unhappy with my weight, even as a young child. But I lacked the commitment and self-confidence it took to make a lifestyle change to better my health. I battled bullying in high school and missed out on so many memories growing up because of my weight.

In August 2012, I was at the beach with my family and was taking pictures of my oldest son, Logan, in the lifeguard chair. I found myself repositioning him to cut down on the number of rolls showing on his belly. I took that photo through tears because I realized it was my fault. He was modeling his eating habits on my own, as well as my lack of physical activity. I decided, right then, that it was time to make a change for myself and for my children. When I got home, I rid my house of all processed foods, we eliminated fast foods, and we started exercising as a family. Our journey had begun.

I realized it was my fault. He was modeling his eating habits on my own, as well as my lack of physical activity.

But if I was going to help him, I had to push through myself.

I started with workout videos and completed one cycle but became bored. But I began to see some progress, which gave me a little boost of confidence that I could finally make this happen.

I needed something different. I read endless articles. I had tried all the fad diets and failed miserably. I saw a post on Facebook about a 5K run and became intrigued. I thought “I’ll give running a shot.”

I started out with 1/4 of a mile, which was miserable for me. But I kept a journal with some short-term and long-term goals for myself and for my son. One of those was to be able to run a mile without stopping. It took a few months, but we checked that off. We kept adding distance until soon we were running three miles consistently.

One goal was to be able to run a mile without stopping. It took a few months, but we checked that off.

Logan signed up for his middle-school cross-country team, and I signed up for a program through my employer called Running 101. I found it helpful to take advantage of the encouragement, training plans and tips. My family and I signed up for our first 5K to support a friend. Logan did great for his first time!

My time was not what I had hoped, but I quickly realized the running community was exactly where I belonged. The encouragement and support that I felt was incredible. There was none of the judgment or belittling I had feared.

We were persistent in our training, and signed up for new races. The pounds began to drop for both of us and the quality family time we were spending together was amazing!

We were persistent in our training. The pounds began to drop for both of us and the quality family time we were spending together was amazing!

Since that first race, my family has completed multiple 5Ks across multiple states as a team! My family is stronger together and we cherish every mile.

But one thing that has become painfully obvious to me during this process is the lack of access many people in my community have to affordable fitness centers, healthy cooking classes, and other resources and support that is necessary to help people start this difficult journey.

There is a huge need and virtually zero access.

Our community does have a gym in Harrisville, but it is only open two evenings per week. There are few, if any, affordable and accessible group exercise programs or personal training programs to allow folks to get on the right path.

Our community does have a gym in Harrisville, but it is only open two evenings per week. There are only a few affordable and accessible group exercise programs or personal training programs to allow folks to get on the right path.

There are only a few exercise groups that meet within the county, but I think sometimes the costs associated with fitness classes discourages people from participating.

There are a few exercise groups that meet within the county but I think sometimes the costs associated with fitness classes discourages people, particularly in rural areas, from participating. Free group exercise sessions that are open to all fitness levels would be great! It’s a lot easier to do it with friends to help you out!

I grew up in a very loving home but physical fitness and healthy eating was not a priority. I felt like I was starting at square one when I tried to learn the ins and outs of healthy eating. There are endless articles online, but for most people in Ritchie County it is really difficult to find tools and resources to help people learn about proactive and affordable things they can do to improve their health.

If the community was promoting healthy living, more people would step outside their comfort zone and participate.

The other issue is child care. There are plenty of youth groups or kids looking for community service that would be willing to volunteer in exchange for those hours if the opportunity was there. I have done all of this virtually on my own (I do have great family support!) because linking people up is nearly impossible without a common, organized goal – which should be getting fit!

Lastly, do not underestimate how important community support is to encouraging people to take those first steps. I was so intimidated to run in my local area. I was so embarrassed to put myself out there. Then people started seeing changes and all of a sudden I started passing runners and walkers on my same routes that would thank me for inspiring them.

If the community was promoting healthy living, more people would step outside their comfort zone and participate. There are multiple 5K races in and around my county, however, it often boils down to being able to afford to do them. I know a $20 entry fee doesn’t seem like much to most, but it’s a lot when you are living paycheck to paycheck.


We agree with Meggan that the places in West Virginia that have the greatest need to support physical activity and healthy lifestyles are the places with the fewest affordable resources.

If you want to get involved in a movement to help change that, get in touch with me at the email address below.

Hello, Christina!

Young West Virginian Throws Down Challenge to Millenials

Hi, Ciera.At the Our Children, Our Future workshop in Huntington last week, Ciera Pennington, 22, local girl made good, threw down the challenge to her fellow Millenials and Gen Z-‘ers…

“Find your passion, and get involved.”

 

My name is Ciera Pennington. I’m 22 years old, and have been involved in Our Children, Our Future for a little over a year.

I got my start with one of the Our Children, Our Future partners, WV FREE, as an unpaid intern during my junior year of college. By my senior year, I was working full-time as a field organizer.

Find your passion. There is so much good you can do for the community you care about, even as a teen or young adult.

My passion is for getting people involved in the democracy that governs them, and in being an active part of their community. I got to see first-hand how knocking on doors can turn voters out to the polls, how organizing as a community can change the minds of our elected officials, and how people want to be involved and make a difference, but don’t always know how.

After leaving WV FREE, I accepted a job in Virginia. In just two short months, I returned to West Virginia. Virginia was great – I didn’t have to dodge potholes that could eat my car. But it wasn’t West Virginia.

It wasn’t organizing my community. It wasn’t making the place and lives of people I love any better, all of which this coalition and each partner organization has been proven to do.

So my purpose today is to urge all of the young individuals in this room to start getting involved now.

Find your passion – whether it be knocking on doors and getting people to vote or organizing events to make citizens aware of environmental issues. There is so much good you can do for the community you care about, even as a teen or young adult. Reach out to the people in this room today; I can personally attest to how much they want you to come get involved and to how much they will invest in you.

Millennials and generation z’ers can feel like we are too young to do anything, like nobody will listen, or that nothing we do will help anyway. But that’s simply not true. We come with new, fresh ideas that others want and that will help make a difference.

It’s so important that we seize these opportunities to get involved. Often, our voices get lost because millennials and generation z’ers can be complacent – we feel like we are too young to do anything, like nobody will listen, or that nothing we do will help anyway.

But that’s simply not true. We come with new, fresh ideas that others want and that will help make a difference.

And not only a difference to others, but a difference to ourselves. Being passionate about something, learning new things, meeting new people – all of that helps you grow and learn more about yourself and who you want to be. I would not be who I am today without the people I’ve met and experiences I’ve had during my time as an intern, organizer and mentor for various organizations and people.

So, go get involved! Go register to vote, and turn-out to vote! There are not enough young people voting, which is sad because that’s where we have a lot of power for change. You may have only one vote, but that vote means a lot. (Trust me – I know this because I worked for a guy who won by a mere 9 votes!)

Anyway, thank you all for the hard work you do! I’m constantly inspired and motivated by each of you, and I hope that some of you will be motivated by my story and begin getting involved.

Interested in trying something new?
See what all the fuss is about – learn more at ocofwv.org/StudentPowerMovement

Meet Kody. He Needs You to Roll Up Your Sleeves.

Kody CrawfordMeet Kody Crawford and the Guyandotte River.

For the past three months, Kody has been working in and around Wyoming County to help clean up the river and promote it as a recreational asset to the region.

Kody sees this work as being incredibly important to increasing recreational tourism in the southern coalfields.

He recently kayaked part of the Guyandotte to get a first-hand look at what the river has to offer.

“This glorious resource can be such a benefit for the region and can be a source for recreation for locals and visitors.”

“Overall, the experience was incredible; the river was very enjoyable and exciting,” Kody says. “There is plenty to see and so much fun to be had.”

But, Kody says, efforts must be taken to make the river healthier. And so that’s what he’s doing.

“The underlying fact remains that the river is dirty and needs to be cleaned,” he says. “This glorious resource can be such a benefit for the region and can be a source for recreation for locals and visitors.”

Kody is currently working with the Guyandotte Water Trail Alliance committee, a group of people and organizations dedicated to helping this waterway reach its full potential. They hope to organize a river clean up in late summer or early fall, before it gets too cold.

Want to learn more? Here’s Kody’s email address, or you can call him at 304.465.3720.

Hello, Christina!

Charleston Gazette-Mail: $20 Million To Spark WV Schools Science, Tech Research

planet

Megan Kennedy/Charleston Gazette-Mail

Five West Virginia universities will see a share of $20 million to boost their science initiatives.

The National Science Foundation awarded the grant money to West Virginia’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to invest in the schools’ research initiatives. The funds will last for a period of five years.

West Virginia University, Marshall University, West Virginia State University, Shepherd University and West Virginia Wesleyan College will split the money.

The National Science Foundation awarded $20 million to West Virginia’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to invest in the schools’ research initiatives. 

The proposal submitted by the state to the National Science Foundation, which was ultimately awarded, is called “Gravitational Wave Astronomy and the Appalachian Freshwater Initiative,” which will focus on water resources and gravitational wave astrophysics.

Regulations on bodies of water in West Virginia are not as strict as some other states, giving researchers some freedom to work with streams, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, said Paul Hill, chancellor with the Higher Education Policy Commission.

The money will be used to bolster the universities’ programs, hire faculty and to purchase new, current technology and equipment to make the students’ resources as up to date as possible in the science industry, Hill said. Universities will also work with their current leading scientists to investigate bringing other distinguished researchers to West Virginia.

The grant application was spearheaded by Jan Taylor, director of the division of science and research with the Higher Education Policy Commission.

“We have a real chance to make a change in West Virginia,” Taylor said.

The idea for the proposal came after Taylor collaborated with the universities to find each school’s strengths in their science industry. Once the strengths were identified, they worked to create a viable proposal that would benefit the state, she said.

Read the full story at wvgazettemail.com

Follow the author on Twitter: @wvschools

 

Weirton Event Targets State Legislature to End Child Poverty in WV

familySo, if I told you there was this small group of grassroots activists and volunteers hatching a bold and ambitious campaign right now to shut down meth labs in West Virginia…

Or to provide better care for children with mental illnesses…

Or to improve childcare options for working Moms…

Or to help babies born without responsible parents find a loving foster home…

You’d want to help them, right?

Good news. You can.

Inspired by the belief that the West Virginia State Legislature should pass policies that protect and support West Virginia’s children and families, an event is being held in Weirton on Monday, Aug. 17 to build local teams in support of local policy ideas for the 2016 legislative session.

It’s the latest in a series of Our Children, Our Future campaign workshops around the state to gather support for locally-grown policies aimed at reducing child poverty, assisting families, improving education options and making West Virginia a safer and healthier place to live and raise a family.

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Weirton2015

In Weirton, community teams from the Northern Panhandle will be pitching their ideas for new policies to encourage and support foster families, boost access to healthy food at food banks, and use taxes on cigarettes to fund improved health care for West Virginians, among other issues.

Now, these grassroots campaign teams are looking for individuals and community groups with similar ambitions to offer their support and help develop their campaigns.

You have a chance to be a part of history.

We’ve been doing these grassroots policy events for three years now, and in that short time we’ve passed 18 policies that have changed the lives of thousands of West Virginians – working moms, low-income families, students, people who need healthcare… real people.

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Weirton2015

The list of policy victories born from Our Children, Our Future policy workshops includes:

  • Medicaid expansion – health insurance provided for 150,000 working West Virginians
  • Minimum wage raised to $8.75
  • Future Fund Act – created endowment for future state investments through natural gas tax
  • Stopped budget cuts to child care programs three years running
  • Feed to Achieve Act – expanded school breakfast and lunch programs
  • Juvenile Justice reform – reduce child incarceration by changing truancy laws
  • Pregnant workers fairness act passed – providing seating and breaks to pregnant workers
  • Move to Improve – to make sure kids get 30 minutes of physical activity every day at school
  • Reduced abandoned and dilapidated buildings through creation of land reuse agencies
  • Prison reform to reduce overcrowding in state prisons

I’ll be there. I’ll see you there too, right?

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Weirton2015

About Jake

Huntington Herald-Dispatch: Downtown Redevelopment Starting to Bear Fruit

new life.

Photo Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Huntington Herald-Dispatch Editorial

Huntington has not made the list of Best 50 College Towns – yet.

The groups that put these lists together look at a variety of factors from livability to cultural offerings to simple “presence” of the school in the community. But when you look at the communities on the top of the list, you understand that the physical interconnection between the college and the town is a big part of the magic.

University life is woven into the fabric of all those communities, and each has its well-known streets and neighborhoods, where town and gown come together. We think that is happening in Huntington, too.

The changes have attracted new businesses, re-energized older businesses and increased pedestrian traffic

Since 2008, the Old Main Corridor project has been gradually building a stronger link between the Marshall University campus and downtown Huntington. And as the project nears the end of the construction phase, we can see that the connectivity is just beginning.

Most of the work has been streetscape infrastructure – rebuilding sidewalks and curbs, plus adding street lighting, trees and bicycle lanes. But block by block, it is making a difference. The changes have attracted new businesses, re-energized older businesses and increased pedestrian traffic along the stretch of 4th Avenue from Hal Greer Boulevard into the heart of downtown.

“Every time I go down where the work has been completed, I see more activity and more people,” said Charles Holley, director of the city Department of Development and Planning. “That was the plan behind the project, and that is what’s happening.”

Read the full editorial at www.herald-dispatch.com

 

Want to End Child Poverty in WV? Come to Huntington, Aug. 11.

childSo, if I told you there was this small group of grassroots activists and volunteers hatching a bold and ambitious campaign right now to shut down meth labs in West Virginia…

Or to provide better care for children with mental illnesses…

Or to improve childcare options for working Moms…

Or to help babies born without responsible parents find a loving foster home…

You’d want to help them, right?

Good news. You can.

Inspired by the belief that the West Virginia State Legislature should pass policies that protect and support West Virginia’s children and families, an event is being held in Huntington on Tuesday, Aug. 11 to build local teams in support of local policy ideas for the 2016 legislative session.

It’s the latest in a series of Our Children, Our Future campaign workshops around the state to gather support for locally-grown policies aimed at reducing child poverty, assisting families, improving education options and making West Virginia a safer and healthier place to live and raise a family.

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Huntington2015

In Huntington, community teams from the region will be pitching their ideas for new policies to improve health care coverage for pregnant woman, involve the general public in budget decision-making, provide child care for working parents, and to ensure ex-offenders are not unfairly excluded from job opportunities, among other issues.

Now, these grassroots campaign teams are looking for individuals and community groups with similar ambitions to offer their support and help develop their campaigns.

You have a chance to be a part of history.

We’ve been doing these grassroots policy events for three years now, and in that short time we’ve passed 18 policies that have changed the lives of thousands of West Virginians – working moms, low-income families, students, people who need healthcare… real people.

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Huntington2015

The list of policy victories born from Our Children, Our Future policy workshops includes:

  • Medicaid expansion – health insurance provided for 150,000 working West Virginians
  • Minimum wage raised to $8.75
  • Future Fund Act – created endowment for future state investments through natural gas tax
  • Stopped budget cuts to child care programs three years running
  • Feed to Achieve Act – expanded school breakfast and lunch programs
  • Juvenile Justice reform – reduce child incarceration by changing truancy laws
  • Pregnant workers fairness act passed – providing seating and breaks to pregnant workers
  • Move to Improve – to make sure kids get 30 minutes of physical activity every day at school
  • Reduced abandoned and dilapidated buildings through creation of land reuse agencies
  • Prison reform to reduce overcrowding in state prisons

I’ll be there. I’ll see you there too, right?

To learn more, or to register, visit: bit.ly/Huntington2015

About Jake.

State Journal: Are West Virginia’s Farms Our Next Big Tourism Draw?

 

Photo by Sickler Farms

Photo by Sickler Farms

By Jim Workman at the State Journal

Corn mazes and pumpkin patches provide additional revenue and interest on farms across West Virginia when harvest time has long past.

But other agri-tourism opportunities exist, as a group of West Virginia producers found out during a four month class that culminated on a two-day bus tour to Virginia and North Carolina this spring…

Tour participants were interested in implementing agri-tourism on their own farms.

“Farms can provide an experience that travelers are looking for. It’s ripe for tourism.”

“Farms can provide an experience that travelers are looking for,” said Cindy Martel, marketing specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture. “It’s ripe for tourism. People want to learn about where their food comes from.”

There was one stop in Virginia and stops in the Triangle area of northeast North Carolina — Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.

A research farm in Raleigh that doubles as festival grounds was one of the stops, along with a corn maze, a large produce wholesaler and a farmer’s market that hosts an onsite kitchen. Another stop included Celebrity Dairy, an agri-tourism operation in Silver City, North Carolina, that has an inn with bed and breakfast-style lodging, a goat farm and customized catering.

Participants learned to think in terms of “clustering” themselves together when possible, with several attractions in one area being more likely to draw tourists than a singular one.

Lisa Sickler, owner of Sickler Farm in Barbour County, was one of the participants in the classes who also took the trip south. Her farm regularly hosts hay rides and a pumpkin patch for families, scouts or school field trips each October.

But she is willing to look for even more opportunities year-round, and she said the class encouraged participants to continue opening their farms to the public.

“It was very neat to listen to other people’s ideas, and what their plans are for agri-tourism,” Sickler said. “We need to work together. We’re not competitors, we’re cooperating. We need to help each other out.

“I’m not going to take business away from a dairy farm, because we don’t offer that. But people may want to come here and pick pumpkins and mums and go visit their farm. It was great to connect to the others.”

The concept of clustering was definitely one that Sickler caught hold of, she said.

“The tour inspired me to look for other attractions in our area where we could draw people into Barbour County to see all that we have to offer.”

“The tour inspired me to look for other attractions in our area where we could draw people into Barbour County to see all that we have to offer,” Sickler said. “We have some bed and breakfasts in Arden, by the river. Down the road from us, we have a community center that has hostel-type lodging. There is a deer farm in Arden and we have a friend that has a 1,000-acre cattle farm close by.

“We want to host a farm-to-table dinner in our greenhouse so we can get people to experience what it’s like to have a dinner that is all locally sourced.”

That tourists would be interested in coming to a working farm still seems far-fetched, Sickler said, but it’s something she is growing to accept, she said with a laugh.

“It’s amazing that people want to come to your farm, spend money at your farm and work on it — it just blows your mind,” said Sickler. “They’re willing to spend a weekend on a farm vacation, working for a weekend or during harvest time.”

Food awareness is a growing trend, with consumers wanting to eat local and support local farmers…

Read the full story at www.statejournal.com

 

Williamson Daily News: Local Energy Patent Aims to Flip the Switch on Control of Power

Photo by Williamson Daily News

Photo by Williamson Daily News

By Cindy Moore/Williamson Daily News

Daniel Hicks of Red Jacket has invented an energy system that may bring hundreds of jobs to Southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky in the near future.

Green Line Energy was in planning stages until February 2015. It was then that Hicks built a small prototype that would give investors and interested parties a way to understand how it works and to prove that a small, high efficient, DC motor, rated at 3 HP, could produce enough hydraulic PSI to be able to run hydraulic motors at 3,600 rpm with a 3,000 PSI rating.

“Displaced coal miners will operate the electrical end and they will still be energy producers, but this time they are in charge.”

It is also able to produce enough force to run two generators and produce power from each one to power 80 percent of what the generators rated for.

Hicks began his adult life in his early 20’s when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1979. Following his time served in the Army he got a job with Ford Motor Company, who paid his way through college at Bowling Green University where he earned a degree in drafting design.

He later pursued a career in the coal mining industry where he worked as an electrician in numerous different coal mines in the area. His job as an electrician taught him, not only about electricity, but exactly how it works and gave him brilliant ideas on new ways to produce energy.

Because Hicks has lived and seen the decline in coal for energy and has watched thousands lose their jobs due to the decline, he decided that there was no better time than the present to put his ideas into motion and make his dream a reality.

Hicks was determined to invent something to produce energy in the way he had imagined. Something more efficient and clean and something that would allow laid off coal miners to stay here in W.Va. and Ky. and still be employed with a company that still produces energy.

“Displaced coal miners will operate the electrical end and they will still be energy producers, but this time they are in charge,” added Hicks.

Read the full story at www.williamsondailynews.com