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Breaking Our Tradition of Poverty

March 10, 2012
By MIKE MYER , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

We West Virginians have done so many things about state government right for many years that we are the envy of much of the rest of the nation. But that's about to change. Through no fault of our own, we're on the verge of keeping up (or down) with the Joneses regarding state budget crises.

Here's the outlook, in a nutshell: By fiscal 2017, state government is expected to be bringing in $4.95 billion for its general revenue and lottery funds. But expenditures from those funds are projected at nearly $5.29 billion. That's a gap of $340 million - a lot of money in our state.

Meanwhile, West Virginians have one of the lowest per capita income levels in the nation. "Thank God for Mississippi - or we'd be last" has become a sort of state slogan.

What to do about it all? Here are a few suggestions:

First and foremost, get the federal government off our backs.

Obamacare needs to be repealed. Our members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate should make that their second priority during the coming year.

More than 52,000 Mountain State residents receive their paychecks directly from coal companies or their contractors. Hundreds of thousands of other jobs - at grocery stores, service stations, even Wal Marts - rely on money spent by miners.

Demand for West Virginia coal to be used for power generation is lagging, and will grow much worse if Obama's EPA pursues even the new rules it proposes now. The export market is not expected to continue taking as much coal as is shipped now from Mountain State mines.

Our members of Congress need to make it their top priority to stop the war on coal.

What can we do right here at home?

How do we maximize the benefit? By continuing on the path already started by the Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who enacted a package of reasonable new regulations for gas and oil drilling, and have approved incentives to bring gas "cracker" plants here.

Doing public education the way we always have won't cut it. We need to start looking more seriously as innovations such as a realistic merit-based pay system, higher pay for teachers in counties near states that pull our educators away with better salaries, and year-round classes. The bottom line is that for years, all we've been willing to try is variations on tactics and strategies that haven't worked in the past. We can't afford that anymore, if we ever could.

We West Virginians are rich in traditions. It's time to keep some, but break with others, including poverty.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at

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