Rejecting the W.Va. Establishment

Talk about job creation is common among politicians. But here in West Virginia, there is a particular urgency about the issue. We’re in deep trouble and it’s likely to get worse.

West Virginia is the only state in the union with a workforce participation rate below 50 percent. That means that of adults able to work, fewer than half have jobs. The rate has been declining since 2007, even as President Barack Obama bragged he had pulled the nation out of recession.

Even those with jobs aren’t doing as well as other Americans. Per capita personal income here is $37,047, more than $10,500 less than the national average.

Our economy was bad two years ago. Then it went into free fall, to judge by state revenue numbers.

Consider four line items of revenue collected by state government: personal income taxes, consumer sales taxes, corporate income and franchise taxes and business and occupation taxes. They are a good guide to how much Mountain State residents are earning and how much we have to spend.

In July 2014, those four categories brought $234.9 million into state coffers, about the same amount as for the previous July. But July 2015 collections dropped to $220.1 million. Last month’s revenue from the four sources was just $190.5 million — down $44.4 million from two years ago. It doesn’t take an economist to decipher what that means.

Earlier this summer, West Virginia University economists suggested the state may be pulling out of recession. Let’s hope they’re right — but think about it: What is likely to get better during the next several months? There’s little reason to hope for a resurgence in gas drilling as long as prices for that fuel remain low. There are many reasons to believe we’ll lose more coal mining jobs. What, then, is going to lift us out of the economic doldrums?

That’s why, even in the midst of a deadly epidemic of drug abuse, Mountain State voters need to be looking at candidates for office who can do something about job creation.

One thing about that needs to be kept in mind: Despite what liberal politicians tell you, jobs are created by the private sector, not government. The best thing the folks in Charleston and Washington can do is get out of the private sector’s way. That means the lowest taxes and the fewest regulations possible.

State Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, brought his gubernatorial campaign to Wheeling this week. He held a town hall meeting at West Virginia Independence Hall, on the subject of job creation.

Businessman Jim Justice, the Democrat candidate for governor, talks about job creation, too. But let’s look at what Cole’s Republicans and Justice’s Democrats have done.

Democrats controlled the Legislature for about 80 years. Many of the state’s problems can be laid on their doorstep. Obama is their president — helped into office, it should be noted, by the very unions that are slamming Cole now.

In early 2015, Republicans wrested control of the Legislature from Democrats. They have held the reins for two lawmaking sessions. During that time they have pushed through important measures that make West Virginia more attractive for job creators.

Some of those steps, including legislation on prevailing wage and right-to-work, are very unpopular with the unions. But the Republicans are doing something about the economy, rather than relying on the same big government philosophy Democrats allowed to put us in our current position.

It has been said this is the year of the anti-establishment politician. Many voters have lost faith in leaders of both parties who have been in power for decades.

Here in West Virginia, Republicans are the anti-establishment force. Cole himself wasn’t even elected to the state Senate until 2012. He’s been president of it for only about a year and a half.

We had 80 years of establishment Democrat rule. That gave us what arguably is the worst economy in the nation. Why on earth would we go back to an approach that failed so badly?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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