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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  • Why wasn't there a plan


    Why wasn't there a plan?

  • Bill Hill

    Someone said the state of the state is not so good and not so bad. I guess it really depends on whose side you subscribe to as to the condition you see the state. The fact of the matter is we are over taxed, over regulated, and pretty much live in a police state. I wonder just how vibrant the state's economy would be if we say did away with the state income tax and replaced it with nothing. I wonder how much better our healthcare would be if we did away with State Healthcare Authority and replaced it with nothing. Government isn't the answer to the state's present situation, it is the problem. Until people realize that we just continue to wallow in mediocrity. The choice is up to us as individuals.

  • ron "from morgantown"

    I'm shocked we get the loyalty and efficiency from state workers given the less than living wage they receive. Hoppy failed to recognize something called marcellus shale and its counter part - cracker . Yes I have to say the worn out phrase - "game changer" . Well that's what it is , just wait 24 months and you will see. Gambling revenue carried this state for the last 10 years until other states woke up and realized how profitable it was . You can't do that with marcellus - we have the gas/oil and you don't . West Va will prosper as a result and it won't be fools gold like the gambling revenue . As far as coal , well its been nice to know you . Southern Wva has been raped by big coal for 100 years and they have nothing to show for it except the scars . Let's not make the same mistake with marcellus , make them adhere to strict environmental standards , make them pay union wages , make sure the workers are safe , make them respect surface owners , make them repair the roads , and make them pay a fair severance tax . Don't be afraid to regulate this new industry .If you don't the whole state , save the eastern panhandle , will look like the southern coal fields. We don't want to repeat that 100 year mistake . The Cracker in Wood county is just the start , energy independence and cheap gas will bring back manufacturing jobs from China. WV is uniquely positioned to seize the moment and grab a lot of those jobs .

  • Bet yaa the water is safe to drink....

    Isn't there a chemist at WVU who could tell us what the chemical leak was comprised? If the word COAL hadn't been associated with the use for the chemical -- we wouldn't be buying bottled water?

  • 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.

    • WhgFeeling

      Very spot on.

    • Oh Did Ya?

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

  • 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.

    • 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?

    • 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.

      • Boookman

        Complete and total B S !!!

    • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • Metzger

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

      • 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?