Economic growth in West Virginia has been a long, difficult struggle for many decades. The state has long relied on the coal industry as the backbone of its economy, but even that pillar has been weakened as a job creator because of mechanization, competition from other fuel sources, and added regulations on burning of coal brought about by concerns over global warming.
The great recession starting nearly 10 years ago only added to the difficulties, and the end of the recession has brought little relief. The state government is faced with annual budget deficits, and balancing those budgets have forced the state to retrench on spending.
Any thought of taking a bold step to reverse that course has been put on the back burner - until now. And West Virginia voters will have a hand in making that happen.
Gov. Jim Justice proposed - and through its votes the Legislature has supported - a "Roads to Prosperity" initiative that aims to spend nearly $3 billion in the coming years on road and bridge improvements and repairs throughout the state. The goals are creating jobs; improving the state's roads and bridges, the condition of which are rated among the worst in the nation; and paving the way for further economic development through improved infrastructure.
Part of the money to support the initiative was approved by the legislature this year, with continued tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike and the issuance of federally backed bonds. But to give a bigger, more immediate boost to the economy, voters will decide in a special election on Saturday, Oct. 7, whether to approve the issuance of $1.6 million in bonds to push this initiative to near the $3 billion level. If the referendum is passed, paying off the bonds over a period of years will be accomplished from revenue generated by increases in the state's gasoline tax, various Division of Motor Vehicle fees that residents pay and the motor vehicle privilege tax.
Those increases already have been approved by lawmakers, so passage of the referendum will not raise taxes and fees any further.
Approval of the Roads to Prosperity Amendment will boost the impact of the roads initiative and allow work to begin much sooner than otherwise would be possible. It will mean tens of thousands of construction jobs. It will mean more people have more money to spend at local businesses, thus funneling the positive impact throughout the economy. And the improved infrastructure is likely to mean more business development along the improved roads and any new highways that are completed.
Justice has stated that 500 projects could be funded with this initiative, and described them as shovel-ready. That there are so many indicates the struggles the state has had in making headway on its infrastructure needs. But that also is a sign of the opportunity that exists to provide a welcome jolt to the Mountain State's economy.
Voters shouldn't let the opportunity pass them by. Vote yes on Oct. 7 to support a much-needed investment in West Virginia.