The sagging West Virginia economy has become a political football, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Last week cable TV business channel CNBC released its annual state-by-state assessments on the "Top States for Business," and West Virginia came in dead last. Of course, the Mountain State has typically ranked near the bottom in a host of similar surveys, especially in recent years with the declines in coal and natural gas.
Usually, state leaders try to ignore the subject or respond with concern and hopes that things will get better. But not this time.
Gov. Jim Justice said simply, "The career politicians in Charleston might be satisfied with 50th, but I can't stand it." He laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Legislature that failed to approve his proposals for economic development and recovery.
"The West Virginia Legislature keeps twiddling their thumbs while our state continues to stay locked in an 'economic death spiral,'" Justice said in the release, and essentially he is right.
While the projected revenue shortfalls made 2017 an extremely difficult session, in the end, almost nothing was done to recharge the West Virginia economy, and there were steps backward on workforce development. Given the challenges the state faces, that is troubling.
Justice and others have proposed concrete ideas to stimulate road construction, industrial site development and tax incentives to help with development and redevelopment. While we understand that some lawmakers feel tweaking or even overhauling the tax code is going to revitalize the image of the Mountain State economy, there is really no evidence that is going to happen.
A closer look at the CNBC ranking shows the topic of "cost of doing business" - which factors in the competitiveness of each state's tax climate - is one category where West Virginia ranks high, 4th in the nation. So is the tax structure really the problem?
Here are the categories that really contribute to the state's low ranking - workforce, education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation. So, the state's response this year was to cut funding for higher education and further hobble the students and institutions that are most likely to improve those ratings. That makes no sense.
If we look across the border to eastern Kentucky, where the downturn in the coal industry has been felt just as much as in southern West Virginia, we see a whole series of targeted, innovative new development plans - from a high-tech greenhouse that will employ 140 people in Pikeville to an aluminum plant that promises to employ more than 500 in Greenup County.
It is time for West Virginia to dial down the ideology and support education, workforce development and specific projects that will help residents boost their marketable job skills and get back to work.