(06/25/2005)
SATURDAY 10:30 PM - West Virginia voters have rejected Governor Joe Manchin's attempt to repair West Virginia's ailing retirement system.

The fix centered on consolidation of pension debt by selling billions of dollars in bonds, lowering the annual payment.

With 66 percent of the state's vote counted, the amendment was failing 47 percent to 53 percent.

The governor had wanted voters to amend the state's constitution to bolster the teachers, judicial and State Police pension programs.

The teachers' system would have received more than five billion dollars of the money.

The defeat leaves in place a 40-year payment plan that relies on ballooning outlays from the state budget to aid the pension plans.

This year's payment takes about $350 million dollars from general revenue with the final 2034 payment estimated at $742 million dollars, which is about one-fourth of this year's budget.

Political speculation regarding the defeat is mostly about Massey Coal's CEO Don Blankenship spending several hundred thousand dollars against the measure with TV, radio and home mailers.

Blankenship spent several million dollars successfully defeating State Supreme Court Justice McGraw, forming a group called "For the Sake of Children," saying McGraw made a bad decision in the release of a sex offender.

Blankenship joined the US Chamber of Commerce in financing McGraw's defeat, saying the state's lawyers were bad for business.

A Mingo County resident told the Herald "The talk is that Blankenship is going to run for public office, maybe the US Senate. His ego and pocketbook could make him a success story."

Interestingly, the "privatization" of the state's pension fund, is essentially the same kind of proposal President Bush is trying to sell the American people with Social Security.

WV widely supported Bush in the last election.

Political pundits said that the defeat, at least in part, was "pay-back" for Manchin increasing the salaries of judges and magistrates.

Others recalled that Manchin's uncle, A. James Manchin, entrusted state investment money to his associate, losing a few million dollars in the stock market (investments).


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