W.Va. Marks 150th, Jay Calls It a Career

These are the top 10 stories of 2013 for West Virginia, as voted on by the editors of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register.

– West Virginia turns 150 – Possibly the most popular word in 2013 was “sesquicentennial.” West Virginia celebrated its 150th year of statehood on June 20 with a series of celebratory events. The Legislature convened in Wheeling, the state’s birthplace, for interim meetings. The State Museum in Charleston also put together a top-notch display of West Virginia through the decades.

– Joe Manchin surges/Jay Rockefeller calls it a career – The state’s two U.S. senators took different paths in 2013. Sen. Joe Manchin fought a losing battle for expanded background checks for firearm sales, but in the process gained national attention for his middle-of-the-road, America-first approach to how Washington should work. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced in 2013 that he wouldn’t be seeking another term in office, ending a 30-year Senate career.

– State budget cuts – After being forced to cut 7.5 percent from the current fiscal year’s budget, state agencies are being told to prepare for another round of 7.5 percent cuts for the 2014-15 fiscal year to offset declining revenues. There’s also a possibility that a mid-year budget cut could be coming early next month, as through November, tax collections are $57.4 million behind projections.

– Energy – The Marcellus Shale play dominated headlines this year, as Odebrecht announced plans for an ethane cracker in Parkersburg and companies such as Williams Energy announced plans to spend tens of billions of dollars in the Northern Panhandle – primarily Marshall County. Coal also saw a major shake-up this year, with Consol Energy selling off five of its West Virginia mines to Murray Energy Corp.

– Jim Clements Resigns from WVU/E. Gordon Gee Hired – It came as a surprise to most when, in November, WVU President Jim Clements showed up at Clemson University on a Monday morning where he was announced as the school’s 15th president. WVU officials moved quickly to find an interim replacement, tapping former WVU and Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee. The school’s board of governors currently is seeking a permanent replacement.

– Routergate – An audit released earlier this year found that state officials wasted millions of federal stimulus dollars by buying more than 1,000 high-capacity routers as part of a $24 million deal meant to boost Internet access statewide. The audit also criticized the state’s bidding process for the router deal, and Legislative Auditor Aaron Allred said the state wasted millions of dollars that could have helped build a better fiber optic network for Internet access.

– Corruption in Mingo County – In April, Tennis Melvin Maynard walked up to Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum’s car and shot the sheriff to death. This murder began a chain of events that has led to a number of public officials in Mingo pleading guilty to federal corruption charges and resigning from office. Among those charged were former magistrate Dallas Toler; former prosecutor Michael Sparks; former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury; and former county commissioner David Baisden.

– Drug epidemic – A report released last year ranked West Virginia first in the nation in 2010 for drug overdose deaths at 28.9 per 100,000 overdoses. There also has been growth in methamphetamine use in the southern part of the state, and a heroin influx in the north. A push earlier this year to make pseudoephedrine – one of the primary ingredients in methamphetamine and also a sinus medication – available by prescription only failed, but it will be before the Legislature again in 2014.

– Medicaid expansion – In May, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin agreed to expand the state’s Medicaid program to an additional 91,500 residents under provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act. That should take the state’s total to 277,000 participants by 2016, according to an actuarial report. The change likely will cost state taxpayers an additional $375 million over 10 years.

– Hands-Free Driving – On July 1, the state’s new hands-free law went into effect, which made it a primary offense for anyone caught talking on a cell phone without the aid of a hands-free device.