Four candidates - two Democrats and two Republicans - are seeking the two delegate seats in the West Virginia House of Delegates 3rd District on Nov. 6.
Incumbent delegates Erikka Storch, a Republican, and Ryan Ferns, a Democrat, face opposition from Democrat Shawn Fluharty and Republican Larry Tighe.
- Storch, 41, is a freshman member in the House. She serves as chief financial officer at her family's business, Ohio Valley Steel.
Storch holds a master's degree in business administration from Wheeling Jesuit University. She and husband, Tom, have three children.
"West Virginia is lucky to have operated with the surpluses it has had in the recent past, but they are coming to an end unless some changes are made," Storch said. "Our state is fortunate. Some of this surplus has been added to both rainy day funds.
"I am pleased the issue of unappropriated funds was addressed in the last budget. Hopefully, this was the start to evaluating unnecessary spending. To be properly positioned for the future, the state needs to examine its budget as many households and businesses evaluate theirs. Unnecessary and wasteful spending needs eliminated, and we need to always use taxpayer dollars efficiently.
"There are many liabilities facing West Virginia in the near future. Several of these have been passed down for years. The time has come to quit passing them along and make sure they do not bankrupt our state."
She believes the Marcellus Shale regulatory bill passed last year by lawmakers will be improved upon.
"This legislation provided a starting point, which was the intention," Storch said.
"Just as businesses do as they embark on a new endeavor, we need to maintain open lines of communication with the interested parties and evaluate what has been successful, what has not been effective, and what should be modified," she said of the legislation. "The appropriate actions then need to be taken."
She acknowledged West Virginia's legal climate has been ranked 50th by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"We need to work to bring that to a more competitive level," Storch said. "However, West Virginia is attractive as a tourism business destination. The state has been blessed with natural beauty and many make their livings sharing the beauty with others. West Virginia is attractive to the coal industry. This state produces a vast amount of coal to meet the world's energy needs. West Virginia is also attractive to the natural gas industry. Several small businesses, like mine, have had experiences with new customers serving this industry. Open lines of communication are key."
She said it should be the state's role to facilitate development. "Like we saw with the 'cracker bill,' the Legislature has the ability to offer incentives that would mitigate these taxes so we may be competitive with neighboring states. I don't think it is necessarily government's role to attract business - rather it is government's role to not be a barrier to those wishing to fill needs and employ people."
- Ferns, 29, was first elected to the House in 2010. He serves on the banking and insurance, government organization and health and human resources committees.
He holds both a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in physical therapy from Wheeling Jesuit University. He is a member of the Governor's Office of Health Enhancement and Lifestyle Planning Advisory Council, and recently opened the Ryan Ferns Healthplex in Benwood.
"West Virginia is the only state out of any of its surrounding states to have maintained a balanced budget throughout the economic crisis that our nation has gone through," Ferns said. "While that leaves us in better shape than some, it is nothing to hang our hat on.
"With changes in funding from the federal government for Medicaid programs, West Virginia is facing a $200 (million) shortfall in Medicaid funding in 2014. It is imperative that we continue to eliminate wasteful government spending and implement policies that encourage small business growth and foster economic development to remain on sound financial footing."
Ferns was among those voting for a Marcellus Shale regulatory bill passed by state lawmakers last year, but he expects West Virginia's leaders to make changes to the law as the industry expands.
"The legislation that was passed was intended to be a first step in how the state will address the natural gas boom," he said. "Because the technology and methods by which this gas is being extracted is new to this region, it is impossible to know with certainty what is necessary to address every concern of all parties involved.
"The Legislature will be able to look at how the initial legislation has addressed those concerns and make changes as necessary during the next legislative session."
Ferns added that legislators also must work to change the state's tax code if West Virginia hopes to attract new businesses in the future.
"It is not the most exciting topic, but the tax code in West Virginia needs completely restructured," he said. "Every time West Virginia wants to attract some large corporation or business operation, we are putting together a special tax incentive package to attempt to recruit them.
"The reason we have to do that each time is because the current tax system is burdensome to businesses. We have made some improvements in recent years, but until we level the playing field and give all businesses the same opportunity as the packages we put together for these 'special' occasions, we will never be truly marketable as a destination for business."
- Fluharty, 28, is a Wheeling attorney with Harris Law Offices. He serves as a commissioner on the Wheeling Human Rights Commission. Fluharty holds a law degree from West Virginia University.
"Not one penny of the people's money should be spent unless absolutely necessary," Fluharty said. "Although West Virginia currently has an economic surplus, future projections show deep budget deficits are coming. ... The impact of Obamacare will bring about significant additional expenses (that) will adversely affect the budget unless elected officials are proactive.
"We can't solve our budget problems by increasing taxes. The people are taxed too much already. I am the only candidate that has proposed elimination of the car tax. Increased economic growth in the private sector serves to provide more jobs to citizens, which in turn will assist the government with the ability to collect additional funds to cover budget deficits."
Fluharty said the Marcellus Shale boom provides a much needed economic lift to Ohio County.
"However, the legislation failed to address economic incentives for the hiring of local workers and the long-term maintenance of our roads and bridges," he said. "I am the only candidate who has proposed that local inspectors should be hired and decided upon by counties where drilling takes place, not mandated by those in Charleston.
"We cannot over-regulate the gas industry, but at the same time, government oversight is needed to ensure compliance with safety standards."
Fluharty suggested tax credits as a way of attracting businesses to the state.
"Lower taxes, great schools, and an excellent quality of life always serve to attract people to our area ... if they have a job," he said. "Industry targeted tax credits have been proven to attract new businesses to our state. We need more of these credits, and to actively market to national and regional companies looking to expand.
"Our labor force is second-to-none; however, we must be the best in the creation of new opportunities. West Virginia should eliminate needless red tape and outdated, intrusive regulations."
- Tighe, 62, of Wheeling holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Charleston, and he also has attended Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, West Virginia University and the former Belmont Technical College.
"I would like to see a dramatic increase in the West Virginia minimum wage," Tighe commented. "A higher minimum wage would seriously encourage more West Virginians to seek a greater variety of employment.
"I also support on-the-job training for jobs that would pay more than the federal minimum wage. In this situation, I support training subsidies to employers ... when jobs are guaranteed for at least six months immediately after the training."
Tighe noted he would also diversify West Virginia's industries to satisfy the needs of the market.
"West Virginia is too dependent on one industry - coal," he said. "We should promote coal, but at the same time we should diversify into other areas like the steel industry. To do this, federal government may need to tariff Chinese steel imports until our industry can recover."
"So far, I haven't seen major problems with 'fracking' natural gas - except the industry. Our residents generally are not considered competent even for training to be their employees."
Tighe has ideas for improving business in the Northern Panhandle.
"Lengthening the Ohio County Airport runway might encourage more direct commercial traffic," he continued. 'More slick Internet commercial ads would attract businesses from all over the world.
"Elimination of our ethnocentrism in West Virginia would make foreign executives more comfortable, and therefore willing to bring their families here."