The West Virginia comeback has begun.
Previously, for far too long, a sense of hopelessness hung over our state like a cloud. Young people left in droves. Businesses closed their doors. The unemployment rate dropped in other states, while West Virginia’s hardly budged.
For 2015, West Virginia was the only state with less than half of its population employed.
Unfortunately, young people are still leaving the state, but there is evidence that some are now staying home or choosing to come back. Part of the reason for this is that that the Mountain State has finally turned the corner.
In fact, for all of last year, West Virginia saw a healthy 2.6 percent GDP growth. Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in a decade and West Virginia led the nation in construction job growth in 2017.
West Virginia’s turnaround is turning heads across the country. GoBankingRates, a personal finance website, ranked West Virginia first in a study of the fastest growing economies in the United States for 2017. A few weeks ago, Fitch Ratings, a major bond rating agency, upgraded West Virginia’s outlook from negative to stable.
How did West Virginia get here?
West Virginia’s apparent comeback is the result of several factors, with one of the most imperative being lawmakers’ bold steps toward creating conditions that encourage job creation and expand individual opportunity.
Last year, lawmakers rejected the largest tax increase in West Virginia’s history. The proposal would have taken nearly a half billion dollars out of the state economy and put it straight into the government’s bloated coffers. Such a massive tax hike would have meant much less money in West Virginians’ pockets to spend, invest, or save as they saw fit.
In addition to keeping the general revenue tax burdens low, lawmakers became better stewards of our tax dollars.
Like many families who gather around the kitchen table to pay the bills and stick to a budget, lawmakers in Charleston started adopting more responsible budgets. In 2017, they cut millions in government spending to balance the state budget instead of simply raising taxes on already-struggling Mountaineers — a seismic shift from previous years which saw millions in tax hikes to fund an ever-growing government.
West Virginia has also been safeguarding its citizens from federal overreach that would raise energy costs and kill jobs. In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation requiring the Legislature to sign off on any Environmental Protection Agency carbon-emission compliance plan before it could take effect. This action ensured that West Virginians, through their elected representatives, had a voice against former President Obama’s draconian regulatory state.
Other steps have also been taken to encourage job creation and save taxpayer money.
In 2016, West Virginia repealed its antiquated prevailing wage mandate that forced government to artificially inflate the cost of public construction projects beyond that of true local market rates. By eliminating the mandate, West Virginia tax dollars can now build schools, parks and roads more affordably.
In the same year, West Virginia became the 26th right-to-work state in the country. Right-to-work laws protect workers’ constitutional rights of freedom of speech and association, ensuring they cannot be fired for refusing to join or pay a union with which they may disagree. Right to work also helps create jobs.
Despite its clearly positive economic effects having been put on hold by an ultimately meritless lawsuit, right-to-work remains essential for our state’s economic development. Business leaders looking to relocate or build new operations cite right-to-work as one of the top considerations in choosing a locale.
Reversing onerous regulations is not always about jobs and the economy.
Our state Legislature also recently eliminated unnecessary requirements that foolishly prohibited advance practice registered nurses from utilizing their full scope of expertise. This was a pivotal move toward increased efficiency and expanded health care choices for West Virginians, especially rural communities.
These pro-taxpayer reforms are what’s helping to make West Virginia a more welcoming place to work, start a business, and raise a family.
The West Virginia comeback has started. And it’s a story that everyone needs to know about.