West Virginia’s economic health changes frequently; it’s confusing. Sometimes, state leaders insist that the state’s finances are fine and minor problems are easily remedied. Other days, agencies, schools and institutions are instructed to prepare for additional major budget cuts.
West Virginia is a great place in which to live, but the leaders of this state appear to be taking an ostrich approach to the state’s financial and economic future. Realistic economic planning is needed for West Virginia’s prosperity and stability.
In his State of the State address on Jan. 8, Gov. Jim Justice said, “The state of our state is strong. And it’s growing stronger every single day.” He also remarked, “Now imagine, personal income last year in 2019 grew $3 billion — that’s with a B — revenue growth went up $51 million. It’s off the chart.” In July 2019, President Trump tweeted, “The great state of West Virginia is producing record setting numbers and doing really well.” Sounds encouraging, doesn’t it?
On Jan. 10, HD Media’s Phil Kabler reported in this newspaper, “Gov’s budget report projects tough years ahead.” He stated, “Indications are that the next four budget years will be even more challenging according to the governor’s annual Budget Report to the Legislature.” The Journal of Martinsburg’s Jan. 7 editorial, reprinted in this newspaper, noted that in the past fiscal year “actual collections were that much ($40 million) below projections on which the budget was based.” On Feb. 4, it was noted that a transfer of $20 million in state funds prevented a deficit from appearing.
In September, an editorial in this newspaper identified the significant loss in severance taxes, more than $25 million below expectation, and that this could affect state budgets. The legislature reduced coal severance tax rates last year, so this is no surprise. At the rate coal companies are declaring bankruptcies or closing, coal will never bring the state the kind of money it brought previously.
Elected officials continue to make all sorts of claims and promises about our state’s positive economy. Is it smoke and mirrors? The Economic Outlook Report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at West Virginia University in October 2018 suggested that possibility.
Economists compared predictions of West Virginia with the overall U.S. in five areas from 2018-2023. Employment average annual growth for West Virginia is predicted at 0.4%; the nation 0.7%. Unemployment for West Virginia 5.0%; the nation 4.3%. Real GDP (average annual growth) for West Virginia 0.9%; the nation 1.9%. Real per capita personal income (average annual growth) for West Virginia 1.4%; the nation 1.7%. And finally, population (average annual growth) for WV -0.1%; for the nation 0.5%.
Those figures going forward three years suggest real problems. The report noted, “The West Virginia economic comeback may be more wishful thinking than reality.” U.S. News ranks both our state’s economy and infrastructure 50th out of 50.
BBER also analyzed the effect of our state’s right-to-work law that took effect in 2017 and was supposed to grow the state’s economy. BBER’s analyses say the 2018 employment growth projection is below the pre-right-to-work data noting, “The policy is not fueling any sort of economic resurgence in the state.”
Impartial professional data indicates that West Virginia’s economic future is in jeopardy. Intelligent and realistic planning is needed to prevent serious long-term financial problems.