[This piece was first published on the original Home Yesterday in December, 2015.]
UPDATE: On January 27th, with Bill Cole’s apparent approval, billionaire Bob Murray came to Charleston to suggest he pay no tax at all, or get more than a 50% cut, while West Virginia faces a budget crisis:
Bob Murray almost yelling about West Virginia’s coal severance tax, calling it too high.
— Jonathan Mattise (@JonathanMattise) January 27, 2016
Murray calls for removal of the 56 cents per ton special severance tax and three percent of the current five percent regular severance.
— WV Coal Association (@WV_coal1) January 27, 2016
Everything for the richest, nothing for the schools. This is happening the same day working families have their prevailing wages taken away by Republicans. The looting of West Virginia is on, with Republicans leading the charge, and billionaires coming in behind them to mop up what we’ve got left. In Cole and Murray’s West Virginia, we take working people’s wages and cut retirements for schoolteachers, but Bob Murray needs a huge cash giveaway.
Over and over again, we’ve seen corporate power players loot a company. Investors, executives, and consultants pay themselves millions, or even billions, before lo, and behold, the company is “bankrupt.” Hard-working employees get left holding the bag, losing not only their jobs, but their pensions, their health benefits, and often, their communities as well. Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made his hundreds of millions just that way. He executed one American business after another, left devastation in his wake, and walked away rich.
We saw it first hand in West Virginia with Patriot Coal. CEOs created Patriot to be plundered until it failed – allowing the miners’ pensions and benefits to be stolen, while the corporate brass walked away with millions. And like any get-rich-quick scheme, the Patriot Coal Plan is spawning imitators. But the latest loot-the-company schemes are not targeting individual businesses, or small company towns, but rather whole states. Republican politicians are now using Romney’s plan to plunder whole U.S. States into bankruptcy – and making handsome profits.
In 2014, Senator Bill Cole seized the Senate Presidency by exchanging the position of Majority Whip for Senator Daniel Hall’s party switch and vote. Cole, a car dealer, looked to see what he could take for himself on day one, trying to treat himself to custom-made legislation limiting pesky auto warranties. He later tried to bestow on auto dealers a special exemption from the so-called “legal reforms” that crippled other West Virginians’ right to a jury trial.
But these little legal favors were just warm ups for the main event — the bulk transfer of taxpayer dollars from the working families of West Virginia to Cole’s friends and corporate backers. His prime target was the business inventory tax, an assessment that cuts into the bottom line of corporations like his own. But all manner of giveaways to the rich are in the offing, including the reckless financial schemes of Arthur Laffer, now best known for bankrupting the state of Kansas.
Still, you couldn’t call it the “Patriot Cole” plan until just the past few weeks, when the state’s leading Republican announced that the health and pension benefits of school teachers, police officers, and state highway workers were, in a nutshell, “not his problem.” Meeting our financial obligations to working families is the responsibility of the Legislature, but Cole will have none of it, saying he was “dismayed” that the “burden” of honoring our promises to our workers was being placed “squarely on his shoulders.” Republican leader Tim Armstead also passed the buck, saying that expecting his Legislature to pay its bills was the “same old passing of the buck.”
This is West Virginia under Republican rule. Money to hand out to wealthy corporate chieftains like Cole? Plentiful. Money to pay the working families that educate our children, police our streets, and try to maintain our roads? Sorry – Cole doesn’t want that “burden” on his “shoulders.” These upside-down priorities of the Republicans – where only the rich matter and the working man can pound sand – built Romney’s fortune, robbed the Patriot miners and now it could flat-out bankrupt our state. It’ll be no surprise when the millionaires and billionaires Republicans planned to entertain at a $100,000 per plate breakfast walk away richer, and working West Virginians pick up the check.
We are now witnessing daily the bitter fruits of Cole’s deal with Daniel Hall. They rot in Charleston, while tens of thousands of state employees face major cuts to the benefits they worked hard to earn. Meanwhile, Patriot Cole and his Republican crew caters to wealthy donors with a series of boondoggles for the Chamber of Commerce. The Republican plan to have middle-class taxpayers foot the bill for their expensive corporate giveaways is going into full effect.
It’s plunder in true Romney style, and on a state-wide scale. All the ingredients are there — the payoffs to those who are already rich, savage cuts to what is legally owed to the workers, and a slick PR campaign to blame outside forces for their own sins. Republicans have already cut prevailing wages for the private sector workers, now they are after the pay and benefits of public servants — no one who earns a paycheck is safe from these Republican schemes.
West Virginians must rise up as one to fight against the plunder of their paychecks, their treasury, and their beloved state. We know what happens if we don’t. Lower wages, layoffs, benefits cut, then taken away altogether.
And it’s all being brought to us by the man who’s earned the name: Patriot Cole.