The following editorial appeared in the Times West Virginian, Fairmont, on Wed., Aug. 26:
It is shaping up to be a busy winter for West Virginia legislators, but there is perhaps one thing they can mark off their todo list.
That item would be changing the state’s tax structure to entice new businesses to the Mountain State.
In testimony before the Joint Committee on Tax Reform last Monday, Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette told lawmakers that it isn’t the state’s tax structure that is keeping businesses away.
In fact, previous efforts to cut business taxes have shown no clearcut evidence of creating jobs, according to the Center on Budget and Policy at West Virginia University.
Burdette says the No. 1 issue in drawing new businesses to the state is the lack of flat land. Numbers 2 and 3 are legal and regulatory issues, respectively, Burdette reported.
Well, there is little we can do about the former, but lawmakers better get busy with finding fixes for the latter.
Also dragging the state down in drawing businesses is the lack of an educated workforce, a point we have mentioned frequently.
For so long, West Virginia’s economy was fixated on the mining industry, which provided good-paying jobs with good benefits. Education beyond high school was not a priority for becoming a coal miner.
But as hard as it may be to accept, that is no longer the case. And as we work to diversify the economy, the need for affordable educational opportunities will take center stage.
Some strides have already been made with programs engineered by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. But more are needed.
The word about schools with certificate programs, vocational education and twoyear associate degrees must get out to the masses, along with ways to help them take these classes and learn new skills in a fast, affordable manner.
Lawmakers must also tackle the problem of low workforce participation, perhaps through the same initiatives that will get people in school and learning.
But they also have to look at ways to get the many potential workers who can’t pass a drug test off of pills, heroin, meth or the drug du jour. To us, there is a mandate to find the means to fund more treatment and diversion centers to help people kick their habits for the longterm.
The federal government also must step up and do something substantial about the appalling shape of roads, bridges and the transportation system in general. Congress has a duty to get off their duffs, discuss and pass long-term transportation legislation that will unlock the mountain ridges and hollows and make travel easier.
Another strike against us? The ill health of many West Virginians. What businesses want a workforce that is rife with heart attacks and strokes waiting to happen?
Burdette told lawmakers companies aren’t making decisions about locating here based simply on state rankings.
“The cost of doing business is absolutely a key element,” he said. “But you have to acknowledge that it is also clear it isn’t the only consideration. If it was, 80 percent of the businesses in the country would be clamoring to come to West Virginia.
“Simply making us the lowest cost state without acknowledging and focusing attention and resources on other factors which make an attractive business climate would be a mistake.”
We hope that lawmakers listen to Burdette and other experts who testify before them. To listen politely and then go ahead and do whatever you intended all along is senseless.
We don’t think that only one or two people have all of the answers that will bring West Virginia through these travails. It will take open minds and compromise to turn things around.
We ask lawmakers to pledge to take that approach and not push an agenda through because it’s the “Republican” or “Democrat” thing to do.
Make sure it’s the right thing for West Virginia.