Under the Dome
by Tom Miller
It was duly noted that the 14th annual economic outlook for West Virginia, forecasting the potential growth of population, jobs and income for 2008 in the Mountain State, came the day after Halloween.
But it was another round of frightening figures, nevertheless.
The coming year is expected to be pretty much like this year and last year and the year before that. Population growth is a typical example of the continuing problem in the only state in the union where there are more deaths than births. The state’s average growth rate is pegged at two-tenths of one percent, which is far below the national rate of nine-tenths of one percent.
So people moving into the state, mostly into the Eastern portion to escape the crowded metropolitan areas of Washington, DC and Baltimore, will account for this minimal increase in numbers.
An added concern is that the state’s elderly population will continue to become a larger percentage of the total while those under the age of 50 will continue to leave West Virginia.
This merely increases the problems of providing adequate health care, particularly for those who expect government programs to cover the cost. An example is the latest uproar by hundreds of retired individuals who must pay an increased share of their coverage in the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) program.
The slightly less than two million residents of West Virginia can also expect to see per capita income increase at a rate below the national average even while the costs of goods and services soars at the same level for people of every state. In straightforward terms, this means each resident of this state will have an average of less than $30,000 to spend while nationwide, the average if closer about $37,000.
But in an election year, the biggest concern for 2008 in the economic forecast is that the number of good jobs will continue to decline as manufacturing jobs are traded for lower-paying wages in retail and other services. Overall, the state added only 2,600 new jobs during the past year.
The economists from the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research were honest enough to say that this is nearly no growth at all, indicating that West Virginia could be headed into a recession during the coming year.
Thus, the stage is set in an election year for some serious lobbying at the 2008 legislative session for more concessions to business interests such as more tort reform, lower business taxes and renewed efforts to change the procedures so that justices on the State Supreme Court are elected on a non-partisan basis
The conclusion is that the economic outlook is far less than rosy in the immediate future for West Virginia. And that figures to play a major role in the campaign of many of the candidates seeking votes in the 2008 primary and general elections.
Meanwhile, last week’s unanimous decision by the three members of the West Virginia Health Care Authority to allow doctors to purchase and use computed tomography machines, commonly known as CT scanners, in their offices was not unexpected.
But hospitals in the state, who admittedly count on this referral business from physicians to be one of the most profitable aspects of a hospital’s business, will continue efforts to deny this move. Charleston Area Medical Center alone predicts it will lose $45 million a year.
The first effort will come during the 30-day period before Gov. Joe Manchin must give his final stamp of approval to the new regulations. But if that fails, then lobbyists for the West Virginia Hospital Association, will be working at the 2008 session of the state legislature to try to get legislation enacted to thwart this decision.
Only time will tell if health care consumers actually pay less or more by having these examinations done in their doctor’s office or at a later date at a hospital. Probably not, since both sides clearly intend to fight to the finish in this debate because of the big bucks hanging in the balance.
Finally, when the 2008 Legislature convenes in less than two months on Wednesday, Jan. 9, the new food-court style cafeteria in the basement of the Capitol is expected to be open for business.
Legislators, lobbyists and visitors alike have missed this popular gathering spot so conveniently accessible by elevator from the legislative halls two floors above and the new $3.7 million renovation is one cost no one seems inclined to criticize.
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