WHEELING, W.Va. — State Senate President Mitch Carmichael told West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association members that legislative leaders are behind their efforts.
“The fossil fuel industry is vital to our economy” he told WVONGA members during the first day of their annual meeting at Oglebay Resort. “There’s nothing we won’t do to help you achieve success. … You have a friendly leadership team in West Virginia.”
Wheeling is the center of West Virginia’s oil and gas universe, he said. “It really is making a difference. These are exciting times to be a West Virginian. This is a state on the move.”
Maribeth Anderson, with Antero Resources, asked Carmichael about a topic close to the industry’s heart: the roads.
Carmichael said that taxes won’t be raised to fix the roads, despite talks of that from some quarters.
He reminded the audience that the Legislature has a limited role in fixing the roads: It provides the money. Doing the work falls to the executive branch, and “it’s just not been occurring in a sufficient manner.”
The Division of Highways has unspent maintenance money, he said. He opposes the governor’s idea of diverting road bond money – which the voters approved for specific projects – to maintenance. “That is problematic.”
Carmichael said leadership also opposes the idea, offered by some on the other side of the aisle, to raise or even double the severance tax on the to put the money toward social welfare programs.
Leadership understands that would damage the industry and the state economy, he said. He earned a chuckle from the crowd with a subtle joke about November 2020: “So don’t let that happen.”
Carmichael took some time to talk about his own pet issue that he considers vital to moving the state forward: education reform.
The Legislature provided the historic 5% raise in 2018, he said, and has another in line when they take up education reform during the special session in June (delayed from May as they still work toward consensus).
Despite all the money, poured into the system, he said, students test lolwest in the nation when they graduate. In fourth grade, they rank about 34th; by eighth grade they fall to 46th or 47th; and among the 12 states that test high schoolers at graduation, West Virginians are last.
People should get excited about the opportunity to change the public education system, he said. Instead, they’re charged with trying to destroy it when they propose something like charter schools: an option available in 44 other states.
“There are strong forces of status quo in our state they want to hold back progress,” he said.
“You see the vitriolic reaction we get when we try to change things. … We can do it but we have to have the courage to do it,” he said, and quoted someone who said, “Nothing good happens in their world until somebody makes an unpopular decision.”
An audience member said he supports leadership’s education reform efforts. The proposed legislation is pro-teacher and pro-education. Efforts to recruit people to West Virginia, he said, are often difficult because the poor education system stands in the way.
Carmichael talked about the state’s workforce participation rate – the lowest in the nation – and praised the passage last session of SB 1, the last-dollar-in bill to provide job education for students and adult workers.
Every company represented in the audience probably has unfilled jobs, he said. “More than anything, that will change our economy and the direction of our state.” And getting people back to work provides more than just a paycheck; it provides dignity, honor and self-respect.
“I’m just absolutely convinced that West Virginia can be the best,” Carmichael said. “I’m just excited about the opportunity to move this state forward.”