2nd District Senate candidates talk PEIA, roads, shale gas, opioids

MORGANTOWN — The candidates for the state Senate 2nd District fielded questions from The Dominion Post Editorial Board.

Incumbent Republican Charles Clements faces Democrat challenger Denny Longwell. While the district spans nine counties, from the top of Marshall in the north to the bottom of Calhoun in the south, Clements and Longwell are neighbors on the same street in New Martinsville.

Charles Clements

Clements is executive director of the West Virginia Route 2 Interstate 68 Authority.

“We’ve got many problems within this district … and a lot of it stems from this oil and gas development, which is a very important thing,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing that has happened in my lifetime in the state of West Virginia.”

Longwell has served as a leader for iron and steel unions and as a labor lobbyist in Charleston, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

“Many citizens have said they feel their voice isn’t being heard in Charleston,” he said. “I will be their voice for them in whatever their issues are in Charleston.”

On the topic of funding PEIA, Longwell favors raising the severance tax, particularly on minerals being shipped out of state. Responding to the belief that raising the tax will drive business to our lower-taxed neighbors, he said, “I don’t believe that for a minute.

West Virginia’s natural gas reserves are the largest in the nation, he said, and companies want to drill for them. “Let’s get our fair share, and we’re not doing that in my view.”

He also favors using tax revenue from medical cannabis to fund the program.

Clements cautioned against putting too much faith in any legislation to dedicate funding to PEIA. “What the legislature gives, the legislature can take away,” he said. To be stable, PEIA money has to come from the General Fund.

Clements said West Virginia’s severance tax is 3.5 times higher than Ohio’s and Pennsylvania’s, so raising it would be counterproductive. But he does favor shifting from a priced-based percentage tax to a less volatile volume-based tax with a sliding scale based on price.

The 2nd District covers the heart of the shale gas boom and both opined on the industry.

Clements said the industry is bringing in wealth and should be encouraged, but it must operate in a responsible manner. “We can’t just let them do what they want to do.”

He was sole sponsor of SB 360, which forbids companies from deducting expenses form royalty checks under certain types of leases. EQT is now challenging that law in court.

Big gas rigs cause road damage, he said. The state requires bonds for back roads but unfortunately can’t require bonds for federal and state highways, which weren’t designed for heavy trucks. Add to that the congestion.

“It’s really unbelievable unit you drive out there and see what it’s like,” he said. But it has brought many residents tremendous wealth, unlike the coal baron days when it all the money went into a few pockets, often out of state.

Extending I-68 is an important goal he said, for capitalizing on the industry, particularly the cracker plants and downstream manufacturing that could result.

Denny Longwell

Longwell agrees that roads are being destroyed. He added that some say industry is affecting their water, and an adequate water supply if of concern in Doddridge and Tyler counties. A portion of the huge severance tax windfalls they’re seeing should be earmarked for the water supply.

On the opioid crisis, Longwell said, “Prevention has to be the key.” Teaching about the danger of drugs should start in kindergarten.

We need more rehabilitation and treatment centers, he said, and those who come out clean need regular follow up. “I know that costs money, but I don’t look at it as an expense. I look at it as an investment in the lives of the common citizens of West Virginia.”

Clements said legislation to build more treatment centers passed last session, but they’re expensive. A portion of the current budget surpluses should be devoted to expanding drug treatment facilities.

People often turn to drugs because they don’t have jobs, he said. If the state can provide an atmosphere that creates jobs for them, they’ll have more motivation to live. “They’re not going to turn to drugs as an escape mechanism.”

The topic of fixing roads circled back somewhat to the gas industry.

“The people that are destroying the roads need to be paying for some of that,” Longwell said. He again supported raising the severance tax. But progress will also require open, honest, nonpartisan discussion.

Clements said, “If we want better roads we’re going to have to pay for them.” The obvious but unpleasant answer is to raise motor fuel taxes.

If the state raises a tax by 1 percent, people will complain for 30 days, he said. “But you raise the motor fuel tax, you’ll never hear the end of it.” But the good news is, that the motor fuel tax cannot go anywhere but into the highways.

By David Beard

The Dominion Post

The candidates for the state Senate 2nd District fielded questions from The Dominion Post Editorial Board.

Incumbent Republican Charles Clements faces Democrat challenger Denny Longwell. While the district spans nine counties, from the top of Marshall in the north to the bottom of Calhoun in the south, Clements and Longwell are neighbors on the same street in New Martinsville.

Clements is executive director of the West Virginia Route 2 Interstate 68 Authority.

“We’ve got many problems within this district … and a lot of it stems from this oil and gas development, which is a very important thing,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing that has happened in my lifetime in the state of West Virginia.”

Longwell has served as a leader for iron and steel unions and as a labor lobbyist in Charleston, Ohio and Washington, D.C.

“Many citizens have said they feel their voice isn’t being heard in Charleston,” he said. “I will be their voice for them in whatever their issues are in Charleston.”

On the topic of funding PEIA, Longwell favors raising the severance tax, particularly on minerals being shipped out of state. Responding to the belief that raising the tax will drive business to our lower-taxed neighbors, he said, “I don’t believe that for a minute.

West Virginia’s natural gas reserves are the largest in the nation, he said, and companies want to drill for them. “Let’s get our fair share, and we’re not doing that in my view.”

He also favors using tax revenue from medical cannabis to fund the program.

Clements cautioned against putting too much faith in any legislation to dedicate funding to PEIA. “What the legislature gives, the legislature can take away,” he said. To be stable, PEIA money has to come from the General Fund.

Clements said West Virginia’s severance tax is 3.5 times higher than Ohio’s and Pennsylvania’s, so raising it would be counterproductive. But he does favor shifting from a priced-based percentage tax to a less volatile volume-based tax with a sliding scale based on price.

The 2nd District covers the heart of the shale gas boom and both opined on the industry.

Clements said the industry is bringing in wealth and should be encouraged, but it must operate in a responsible manner. “We can’t just let them do what they want to do.”

He was sole sponsor of SB 360, which forbids companies from deducting expenses form royalty checks under certain types of leases. EQT is now challenging that law in court.

Big gas rigs cause road damage, he said. The state requires bonds for back roads but unfortunately can’t require bonds for federal and state highways, which weren’t designed for heavy trucks. Add to that the congestion.

“It’s really unbelievable unit you drive out there and see what it’s like,” he said. But it has brought many residents tremendous wealth, unlike the coal baron days when it all the money went into a few pockets, often out of state.

Extending I-68 is an important goal he said, for capitalizing on the industry, particularly the cracker plants and downstream manufacturing that could result.

Longwell agrees that roads are being destroyed. He added that some say industry is affecting their water, and an adequate water supply if of concern in Doddridge and Tyler counties. A portion of the huge severance tax windfalls they’re seeing should be earmarked for the water supply.

On the opioid crisis, Longwell said, “Prevention has to be the key.” Teaching about the danger of drugs should start in kindergarten.

We need more rehabilitation and treatment centers, he said, and those who come out clean need regular follow up. “I know that costs money, but I don’t look at it as an expense. I look at it as an investment in the lives of the common citizens of West Virginia.”

Clements said legislation to build more treatment centers passed last session, but they’re expensive. A portion of the current budget surpluses should be devoted to expanding drug treatment facilities.

People often turn to drugs because they don’t have jobs, he said. If the state can provide an atmosphere that creates jobs for them, they’ll have more motivation to live. “They’re not going to turn to drugs as an escape mechanism.”

The topic of fixing roads circled back somewhat to the gas industry.

“The people that are destroying the roads need to be paying for some of that,” Longwell said. He again supported raising the severance tax. But progress will also require open, honest, nonpartisan discussion.

Clements said, “If we want better roads we’re going to have to pay for them.” The obvious but unpleasant answer is to raise motor fuel taxes.

If the state raises a tax by 1 percent, people will complain for 30 days, he said. “But you raise the motor fuel tax, you’ll never hear the end of it.” But the good news is, that the motor fuel tax cannot go anywhere but into the highways.

Tweet David Beard @dbeardtdp

Email dbeard@dominionpost.com

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