People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. Welcome to From On High.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Are Your Priorities?

Tazewell County, Virginia is depopulating. The people there are leaving by the thousands in a time when the state of Virginia is witnessing unparalleled growth and prosperity.

The commonwealth's data center estimates that Tazewell's depopulation trend, if all factors remain as they are today, will continue for at least the next twenty years.

The average weekly wage in Tazewell County in 2005 was $523. (link) That's 40% lower than the rest of Virginia.

The median household income there was $27,304 when the last census was taken. The state average was $46,677.

The median value of an owner-occupied housing unit in Tazewell was 50% lower than the state median. (link)

15.3% of the people live below the poverty line.

22% of the people are on Medicaid. (link)

Richlands, population 4200 (+ or -), is located in the heart of Tazewell County.

The median household income there ($23,712) is even lower than is that of the county.

So how does the local press react to this dismal set of circumstances?

The Richlands News-Press is concerned about the state maintaining its tax revenue surplus.

I could not believe my eyes when I read this:
EDITORIAL: Budget deadlock like baby-dangling
Richland [sic] News Press
Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A good number of Americans are familiar with Michael Jackson’s attempt at showing his love for his children by dangling his infant son over a balcony a year or two ago.

And with last week’s ending of the regular General Assembly session without a budget, it feels like Virginians are getting another good dangling themselves by a certain segment of the House of Delegates.

... it’s amazing and pretty galling that Speaker of the House William Howell and much of that chamber’s Republican wing are crowing about close combat with Senate Republicans and how they are showing fiscal discipline and responsiveness to the people by throwing away a $1.4 billion surplus into a one-time hole of transportation spending.

No real plan for sustaining those surpluses.

No admission that programmed spending increases from prior years still have to be funded out of that surplus.

No coherent plan for sustaining those surpluses or preparing for another fiscal ‘rainy day.’ (link)
How detached. How completely devoid of understanding. How arrogant.

Families that have called Tazewell home for generations have in recent years been forced to pack their worldly belongings on trucks, leaving loved ones behind, and have moved north looking for jobs to replace those lost when the mining industry in the area crumbled.

Experts predict that this exodus will continue for decades.

And the Richlands News-Press is fretting over the state government's ability to maintain a surplus. Over its plan to sequester piles of money for its rainy day fund.

Are you people nuts?

Do you have any understanding as to where that surplus - a horde of cash that our politicians have taken in but simply cannot spend fast enough - comes from?

It comes in part from the few remaining taxpayers in Tazewell County.

It comes in greater part from those employers in Richlands who are struggling mightily to not follow all the others in the area who have moved jobs overseas or who've shut down the line and simply closed their doors - forever.

Make an argument for the government to do more for the (rapidly aging) population of Raven and Bluefield and Pocahontas (!), but don't argue that the government needs to take more income from area residents so that it can sit on it.

Better yet - make an argument for full employment in the area. For growing the population. For expanding the number of employers. For economic prosperity.

Or else go back to doing what you do best. And let Tazewell County die in peace.

More Layoffs In Southside

The town of Brookneal got the unwelcome news that Dan River is laying off 110 employees:

More layoffs at Dan River
By Gerald Witt, Register & Bee staff writer

DANVILLE, Va. - More layoffs were announced Wednesday at Dan River Inc. as the textile manufacturer eliminated 110 jobs at its Brookneal, Va., sewing and finishing plant.

In the latest round of cutbacks, about 100 hourly and 12 salaried employees at the Brookneal [sic] were personally notified on Wednesday that their last working day would be Friday. Severance packages will be offered through the company based on pay scale and career length at Dan River. State and federal aid will be distributed through the Virginia Employment Commission ...(

Every one of these 112 Virginians who now find themselves out of work and without paychecks had to withdraw money from their personal "rainy day funds" in order to pay into the government's ...

And the governor and newspaper editorialists around the state demand more.

For the love of God.

We Demand So Little From Our Politicians

Galax, Virginia is reeling from several massive layoffs this year. And there is no end in sight to the economic slide.

The governor motored into town - briefly - and set up the means by which area residents who now find themselves out of work, out of a paycheck, and in need of moving north to find employment could have a few dollars on hand to rent a U-Haul.


So how does the local press respond? In the case of the Galax Gazette, with a juicy kiss on Governor Kaine's backside:

A ray of hope shines

It's hard to imagine this community in May, with 841 fewer jobs than on Jan. 1.

Unless we get some jobs, the city will shrink. People will move, and those that are left will need fewer services, costing even more jobs.Unless we want to become a bedroom and retirement community, we need to take action.

The state has come through for us, announcing last Thursday the creation of an Economic Crisis Strike Force. Gov. Tim Kaine will sign it into existence Tuesday in Galax.

The strike force will provide concentrated assistance to the community and laid-off workers, as it did in places like Martinsville and South Boston. Now it's up to us to take advantage of this opportunity and figure out how to get back to work. (link)

The editorialist is probably right that the people of Galax are on their own when it comes to solving their problems. The governor is preoccupied with transportation needs up in bustling Fairfax County and hasn't time for the 841 Southwest Virginians - and their children - who are about to make the migration.

Truth be told, those 841 voters will probably be registered in Pennsylvania by next election day. So what difference do they make - really?

As for the Gazette's "let's roll up our sleeves and git 'er done" editorial, I was touched. Actually, no, that's not true. I touched myself to see if I was dreaming. The economy in Galax is in free-fall, you meet with the governor who offers up a few welfare checks but no plan for fixing your problems, and you thank him for having brought to town "a ray of hope"?.

And that "The state has come through for us." Is that all you expect from your elected representatives? Welfare checks?

Any more of that kind of help from the state and you can turn Galax' lights off. And join the migration north.

I see no "ray of hope," lady. I see only smoke being blown where the sun never shines.

Area Blogger Makes The Bigtime

Brian Patton, he of the delightfully named weblog BRIANPATTON.ORG, has a fawning write-up and an attaboy in the latest Coalfield Progress:

Clintwood attorney breaks news of congressman's engagement

Though he doesn't have a background in journalism, Clintwood attorney Brian Patton was a news breaker last week.

And by getting the scoop, the vice-chairman of the Dickenson County Democratic Committee has also found himself making headlines.

The news is that Rep. Rick Boucher is getting married. And Patton was the first to break the story, posting on his blog the first photo of the ninth district congressman and his fiancee Amy Hauslohner. (link)

Read the whole thing. Brian is now a local celebrity. I want an autograph.