POINT PLEASANT — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, III, (D-W.Va.) hosted a town hall meeting Thursday at the Mason County Courthouse and got some tough questions thrown at him, including the completion of U.S. 35 and Second Amendment Rights.
In regards to the completion of U.S. 35, without tolls, Manchin was asked to speak to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin about finishing the road. There have been many in the community who feel the governor is the missing link when it comes to approving a plan to finish the 14-mile stretch through Mason and Putnam counties.
Manchin, of course, was governor when the $230 million was allocated to at least begin the process of U.S. 35 completion.
“Let me be very honest with you, I was in favor of tolls,” Manchin said. “I would’ve built your road if I was still your governor. You’d have been maybe a little mad, but I guarantee you if you look at the law the way we had it written, you would’ve been able to deduct (tolls) from your state taxes…all the tolls wouldn’t have cost you a penny. We’d have out-of-state people paying most of the tolls and your road would’ve been finished. That was just my opinion.”
Manchin went on to say: “As governor, I spent every penny that I could get my hands on to build you this road. Everybody talked about it but nobody delivered. I spent over $230 million and every other county wanted that money. I looked at the death rate on this road. I looked at the traffic count on this road and I put the money where I thought it was needed.”
At that point applause broke out during the town hall meeting.
Manchin added, when he saw there wouldn’t be enough money to finish the road, that’s when the tolls came into play and stressed again the deduction of those tolls on state taxes for residents and the old U.S. 35 remaining open for those who wished to use it instead.
“Everyone’s giving you a good song and dance and talking about it but, guess what, you still don’t have it built. If I had stayed until 2012, I would have finished that road,” Manchin said. “I was committed to getting it done because I went through hell just building what we built and I was determined to finish it and you wouldn’t have been burdened, you really wouldn’t have, and they scared the bejesus out of people and that’s just wrong.”
Manchin was then asked about his stance in the gun control debate which he took a massive amount of heat for last year after he supported a bill that asked for background checks in commercial settings and online, when it came to gun purchases.
“I’m a gun person, I shoot, I collect, I do it all,” Manchin said. “And when this Newtown shooting happened and 20 babies got slaughtered, it changed the whole emotional factor of what was going on. How can we look and see to do better?”
Manchin said the bill in question was “not gun control, just common sense” when it came to background checks at gun shows and on the internet.
Manchin said in talking to members of the gun community, he found many felt the bill was good but there was a distrust of the government not knowing where to stop.
“The lack of trust in government today is unlike I’ve ever seen in my life and all I’ve got to tell you is, if you don’t like it, you’ve got to get involved and change it.”
Manchin said if the government didn’t try and do something responsible regarding this issue, if another “horrible situation” happens like at Newtown, there could be a feeding frenzy and law abiding gun owners could bear the brunt. He also said the bill he supported restored several rights of the Second Amendment - rights lost under the Brady Bill.
Manchin was also asked about Social Security and keeping it solvent. Manchin said by the year 2033, the Social Security trust fund will be reduced by 25 percent at this point and he blamed at least part of that on the wage income, which was set in the 1980’s, not being adjusted - he said this needs changed to reflect the times. He said Medicare needs fixed by 2024 and Social Security Disability is set to go completely bankrupt in 2016 if the government doesn’t fix it. He also added Social Security pumps $5 billion annually into West Virginia’s economy.
Manchin also got a question about concerns over political action committees being able to contribute unlimited funds to campaigns. Manchin said this type of legislation leads to “a very few, elite people with unlimited money potentially controlling the political landscape…it’s wrong for our country.” Manchin said he’s trying to bring back a level playing field that would allow labor unions to compete with these political action committees.
“Money’s killing the whole system right now,” he said.
After a resident’s statement expressing frustration over what they saw as the Obama Administration overstepping its bounds, Manchin said he and another senator from Kentucky were going to take the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to court over new source performance standards affecting the coal industry. Manchin said the authority for these standards should come through Congress, not the EPA.
“They’re (EPA) saying we have to meet certain standards that we can’t meet because technology hasn’t been perfected,” Manchin said.
Manchin said the reasonable thing to do is to take six of the best coal-fired burning power plants in the country, evaluate their emissions for one year and that should be the target to hit and if the government wants to lower that, then new technology shown to work should be developed and then the industry would hit that mark, but the technology needed to be there and be available before being demanded.
Prior to taking comments, Manchin spoke about the volatility in Iran and later told a resident he supported Israel, adding there was “no way” Iran should be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
He spoke about the finances of this country being the greatest threat to its survival. He also talked about introducing legislation to help prevent another water contamination situation like the one that recently gripped so many West Virginians.