Without fail, when the West Virginia Governor delivers his annual address to the Legislature and the state, he will include this line: “The state of our state is strong.”

Governor Tomblin included the line early on in his speech Wednesday night. This year, as with most years, it’s a debatable point, depending on the prism through which the state is viewed.

Let’s begin with the state government, and on that front there are some positives.

West Virginia is paying its bills on time, not laying anyone off, making regular payments into employee retirement programs, maintaining a healthy reserve account of over $900 million (although the Governor has proposed taking $84 million from that to pay higher Medicaid costs), enjoying high bond ratings, and even carving out a small raise for teachers and public employees.

Over the last few years the state has lowered its corporate net income tax, eliminated the tax on food and is one year away from eliminating the business franchise tax.  There’s been no general tax increase since 1996.

So the fiscal condition of West Virginia government, especially compared with many other states and the federal government, is pretty sound.

But, thankfully, there is more to West Virginia than government, although it is, by far, the largest employer in the state.  What is the state of the private sector economy? This is a wildly mixed bag.

Some parts of West Virginia are doing well–the I-79 corridor in north central West Virginia and the eastern panhandle, for example–but the southern coal fields are struggling and dotted with pockets of deep poverty and limited, even non-existent, opportunities.

The state’s biggest industry, coal, is in a slump and faces an uncertain future because of regulatory pressure from the EPA, competition from natural gas and the high cost of getting to smaller and hard-to-reach seams.  Coal exports are down along with coal field employment, not only in the mines, but in related industries.

As I mentioned previously in this column, the state’s population is stagnant.  State’s with strong economies have population growth as young workers stay home and out-of-state workers move in to take better jobs.  That’s not happening in West Virginia.

Still, state figures show payroll employment has reached a new peak (775,000) and is growing.  Additionally, employment is expected to gradually increase over the next three years, according to IHS Economics.   However, wages over the last several years have largely flatlined, in part because of the decline in the coal industry.

And on it goes.

Ultimately, the state of the state is… complex, and at times, even contradictory, but that’s a lousy line for a speech.

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Comments

  • Mason County Contrarian

    Find the right official to bribe so at least we can finish Rt. 35. That way we can all get the heck out of here quicker.

  • D.P.

    Unlike our current Liar in Chief, Christie at least had the gonads to address the issue and fire some people pronto. If he were involved, his political career is (and should be) over. The Lapdog/Lame Stream Media will do FAR MORE investigating of this incident than they've done on ALL of Obummer's scandals combined!!!

    I just heard on FOX News (the ONLY remotely honest news channel) that in ONE DAY, the 3 main news networks have devoted SEVENTEEN TIMES the airspace to the bridge incident as they did in SIX MONTHS relative to the IRS Scandal!!! And they call themselves "News Networks."

    How unfortunate that these 3 networks are nothing but an extension of the White House and Democratic Party. A compliant press is just as bad as the lack of a free press!!!

  • WV Citizen

    Hoppy , as a public employee where is my small pay raise!!!!!!!!!!

  • mntnman

    Well, we have issues to address. But doesn't everyone. We are doing some things well, some things OK and some things badly. But then doesn't everyone. We are at a point where we are stable enough that we can crow about our good fortune, but still have abject poverty and a limited economy. But then doesn't everyone.

    The point is that for WV, things aren't so bad, but then they're not great either. We are awash in mediocrity in government, in business, in our population. No one is doing brilliantly, but then no one is sinking on the Titanic either. The question we need to ask ourselves is this enough. Is mediocre acceptable? Of course it isn't, but what do we do about it.

    Education, education, education. Sorry to be a broken record, but that one thing, done well, could solve so many of our problems. All other things being equal, if we simply educate our children and adults better, we will see a boom. So, the focus needs to be on public education, vocational schools and college in WV. That's where we need to put our time, our resources and our energy. If we do it, and do it well (we can), then we will succeed beyond anyone's mediocre expectations. I hope we do. I think we might. Here's some optimism that we might just be on the threshold of getting this right. I suppose only time will tell.

    • Wirerowe

      I agree that education is one if not the most important focuses. We need to find out what engages boys in the education system, focus public schools and universities on competency requirements and utilize technology to the fullest. We need to give more control to local school boards and principles in the operation of public schools. If Washington and charleston want to send money send it with no strings. And we have to increase focus on community colleges and change the focus of four year colleges from enrollment to higher.graduation rates.

      • Joe

        Totally agree Wire. Being from Maryland, that state made a committent to community colleges 30 years ago and it has paid huge dividends.

  • Bob

    Hoppy, why doesn't the state co-sponsor with the gas drilling industry a program to help unemployed workers from the southern coal field relocate to counties in the north where gas-drilling jobs are plentiful and well-paying?

    • GregG

      Now that's a great idea. And they can start by giving these unemployed miners a Rosetta Stone kit.

      • KennaEer

        What a POS bigot comment. I am from northern WV and claim all in the state as one. Go bury yourself 6' under and lose the shovel.

  • WVU 74

    Hop'sHip: This has got to be a first. This poster actually agrees with your status report.

    • Hop'sHip

      Then I change my mind. I would say the state of the state is statuesque!!!!!!!!!!! (excessive use of exclamation marks was inspired by the king of punctuation - Mr. D.P.)

  • Hop'sHip

    Hoppy: Based on the statistics you state, I would say that the state of the state is static. That would be my status report.

    • Shadow

      I guess the good news is that while most State can go up or down, being 50th means you have only one way you can go. It is a sad situation for some of the nicest people in the World.

  • GregG

    "So, what is the real state of the state?" Well, right now there seems to be a little issue with the drinking water in the Kanawha Valley and surrounding areas. Seems one business had a chemical spill into the Elk River and another business, West Virginia American Water, sucked it up and piped it to all it's customers. Meanwhile, those in the "Marcellus Shell" area who have been ridiculed for their concerns over the dangers of fracking are chuckling.

    • Hop'sHip

      Let them eat cake and drink wine! Just keep those Feds out with their Obamawater.

  • WhgFeeling

    One must think...what could be done on a large scale in these southern coal fields to enhance quality career growth while maintaining the pristine mountains? All in while considering all the obstacles we would have to overcome to......the very poor business climate, including tax structure and tort reform, the base in which an employer would have to select quality employees and the constant drug and mental health issues.

    Sadly I cannot see our state pulling out of the slump any time soon. Why would one invest time and money into our state to take a HUGE risk on a population that suffers so greatly of drug abuse, poor work ethic and entitlment?

    Sorry to sound so dismal. It saddens me to see such a wonderful state adn wonderful people falling into such blight.

  • Fubar

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, West Virginia sits in spot number 52 out of 53 possible places for creating new jobs in the United States, rankings that also include Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C. - Shauna Johnson,December 31, 2013
    Our business, educational, political leaders, and voters should be open to some self examination to see what we are doing wrong. Job creation should be top priority. A visit or phone call to Texas would be a lot cheaper and more productive than a political junket to Europe or Japan.

    • Oh Did Ya?

      Could not agree more! Teacher raises, although deserved, are not an answer to job creation.

    • WhgFeeling

      Very spot on.

  • TD

    Didn't I see a column here about a month ago touting Chris Christie as the kind of leader the country could use? You were almost giddy over the big guy. The shine came off yesterday and as the great Republican hope Sarah Palin said, "you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig.

    As for you topic today Hoppy, the parts of WV that moved on away from coal as it's primary economic activity is doing much better than the parts that did not. Hmmm.

    • WhgFeeling

      Acutally TD I don't think is was so much a move away from coal, it is more a diversifying from ONLY coal. The northern area is still heavy on coal but not only coal as in the case of the southern coal fields. It is not that simple that the area moved away from coal and the problems have been solved as you seem to imply.

      • TD

        note the wording, "moved away from coal as it's primary economic activity"

        • Aaron

          Have you been to the southern coalfields? What other industries do you suggest?

      • Metzger

        I would add that the eastern panhandle is supported largely by Federal jobs... The decent paying private sector jobs here have been desimated.

    • Oh Did Ya?

      I still contend he is the kind of leader we could use. What happened was bs but how did he respond - holding people accountable and addressing the issue head on. I appreciate his candor....refreshing in a political era where sounding good in a speech is more important than delivering results.

      • Jephre

        +1 to Oh Did Ya.

        Christie is head and shoulders above the current White House occupant when it comes to leadership. Of course, that's a pretty low bar, but you get the point.

      • Hillboy

        1) although you may like Christie he will never be president. He hugged Obama! That is more than enough to eliminate the possibility of a huge chunk of the population ever voting for him. He hugged Obama!
        2) He was not being candid. He was lying through his teeth.

    • Uncle SAM

      The guy that puts a tingle up your leg said that about Palin on Sept. 9 2008.. Palin said the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was "Lipstick"

      • TheFungoKnows

        Never let the truth get in the way of a good rant. If liberals could ever create non-government jobs, WV and this country would thrive. Do you ever notice that these liberal policies almost always cost jobs instead of creating jobs??

        • Jephre

          "... almost always cost jobs..." AND increase taxes!

    • The bookman

      Not to mention that all the excitement is about wet gas, with all it's component parts...that is why we see the regional development happening in northern West Virginia...the southern part of the state will eventually have their boom when drilling for dry gas begins...the wet is more valuable, so they'll get that first.

      So actually, wheeling is right... No one's moved intentionally away from coal. They have added gas to their portfolio.

    • Aaron

      Say what you like about Christie, and he's certainly not my front runner, but he fired the people responsible.

      When was the last time our current federal administration held their underlings responsible for their mistakes, poor decisions and ineffective leadership?

  • Medman

    If you want to know why Walmart is the largest private employer, look in the mirror. We vote with our feet and money as to where we buy our stuff. Most want the lowest price and best quality for cars, TVs, computers, clothes, phones, everything. We really do not shop based on where it is manufactured and then we turnaround and bash the government or the evil corporate executives for our own behavior.

    • Steve C

      SPOT ON! +1

    • Metzger

      So where does a WV resident making $10hr go to buy affordable American made Clothes?

      • WV Citizen

        Do your research on the internet!!! One is called All American Clothing Co. out of Ohio.
        Many veterans are turning over in their grave because WVians are buying clothes made in VIETNAM and CHINA. Buy America and support American workers.
        Remember, " Just say NO to Capito"

  • tankmaster

    Unfortunate that Walmart is employing people or that there are not other employment options? Nobody - at this point - is forced to work at Walmart or anywhere else for that matter. You really do control your life. Walmart I believe is the largest private employer but not largest overall.

  • CaptainQ

    Well Hoppy, it is always good to reflect on the positive aspects of West Virginia. Sadly, the state's great financial position will soon be changing radically. State tax revenues have been down for many months and expenses are increasing despite the latest round of mandated budget cuts. This trend must be addressed quickly because if it is ignored, it won't just go away.

    Although it is true WV has a 'Rainy Day Fund,' it wouldn't be wise to completely drain it to make up for many consecutive Annual budget shortfalls. This is why I'm convinced that new and higher taxes for the shrinking WV work force are just over the horizon. Once the 'Obama Effect' has ended and the WV Democrats' iron grip on state leadership is no longer under serious threat, they will return to their age old tradition of raising/creating taxes without fear of being defeated for reelection. In other words, 'business as usual' for state politics.

    Bottom line, hang on to your wallets, folks! Change is coming, and THIS kind of change is going to hurt.

  • Jeff

    Hoppy, The state is not the largest employer in West Virhinia, WALMart is the largest employer in West Virginia and almost every other state.......unfortunately!

    • WhgFeeling

      Actually Jeff, Hoppy is right on this one. State government has on it's payroll than WalMart. Walmart is the state's second highest.

      • Public Ed

        Walmart is the states largest "private" employer.....State of WV is largest public employer