- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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April 29

The Charleston Gazette on West Virginia’s potential to be an attractive destination:

Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that West Virginia lost 10,000 residents in the previous 12 months - the worst decline rate of any state. Altogether, the Mountain State lost 22,000 people since the 2010 census, while America as a whole boomed by millions per year.

Currently, the “Inside Appalachia” public broadcasting show is featuring reports titled “The Struggle to Stay,” spotlighting bright young residents who don’t want to leave the hill country but have difficulty finding careers here.

The decline is influenced by the steady retreat of the Central Appalachian coal industry, which sheds thousands of jobs each year. Its slow-motion collapse undercuts other businesses and wipes out revenue needed by state and county governments.

Wheeling’s mayor created a special committee for “population retention,” trying to prevent more loss. He said an enhanced quality of life - good parks, housing, culture, etc. - is essential to attract residents.

The Republican-controlled 2017 Legislature passed a poverty-level state budget that would degrade public schools, higher education, pollution controls, medical care and many other government services needed for an adequate quality of life. Such a cutback would cause West Virginia to become more a backwater, unattractive to bright young people or forward-looking businesses.

Bravely, Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the poverty budget and will demand that legislators do more for West Virginia. Bravo.

Politicians can and should dictate taxpayer investment in education, highways, health care, state forests and many other government services that improve life, attracting residents and businesses.

When lawmakers return in special session for another try at the budget, they must abandon their approach that guarantees defeat and further decline. Instead, they must pump new life into West Virginia.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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May 2

The Daily Mail of Charleston on Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement to gather lawmakers to pass a budget for the 2018 fiscal year:

The special session of the Legislature is based on Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement to bring lawmakers together to pass a budget for fiscal year 2018.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the governor, his administration and legislators are close enough to an agreement to make this session productive without wasting the time of rank-and-file legislators and the money of taxpayers, who must fund a special session to the tune of about $35,000 per day.

Gazette-Mail Capitol Reporter Phil Kabler is likely correct in his observation, as posted in his Sunday column, that the governor’s strategy is to get the Senate to pass a compromise proposal and then put the pressure on the House of Delegates to fold.

“It’s a giant $4 billion game of chicken, and Justice is counting on House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and company to blink first,” Kabler wrote.

Many blame Armstead as the reason for no budget compromise so far, but Armstead has caucused the House majority over and over and has a good feeling of what it is likely to accept and reject, regardless of his personal stance on revenue and spending measures.

Yet give Armstead and his caucus credit for realizing what the Justice administration doesn’t: They were sent to the Legislature to change things, not continue with ongoing government growth based on tax-and-spend policies of the past.

“I don’t know if calling us in early was part of a strategy of some sort, maybe trying to pressure people into reaching a compromise,” Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns told MetroNews. “I would love to find out he’s changed his mind and decided to delay things a couple of weeks.”

The Justice administration appears to be focusing its discussions with the Senate leadership, where it is finding a more willing ear and apparently hoping the House will come around.

That’s probably not a good strategy.

“I think he is maybe thinking along those lines, but I don’t think it will work,” Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, said. “At least as it relates to some of the proposals we’ve had out there, the House is pretty well dug in.”

Without working out an agreement with both Senate and House leadership before the special session, many lawmakers not directly involved in budget discussions will have nothing to do during the session but wait. That’s the costly part to taxpayers.

It’s likely Justice will play a political game of pointing the finger at House lawmakers for costing the state money.

We’ll see starting Thursday, but don’t fall for the claim that Armstead and the House are costing the state money when Justice called the special session on the budget without showing his leadership by working out a reasonable framework for a budget deal first.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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April 30

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on why West Virginia must connect its students with local opportunities:

“The reality is there’s a lot of opportunity here.”

That’s something we do not often hear about West Virginia.

But that is just what Intuit President and CEO Brad Smith told students at Marshall University last week. He’s right, and his comments remind us that it is all too easy to focus only on the problems our region faces and fail to recognize our own potential.

“One of the challenges we face in the state is our best and brightest feel like there’s not opportunity here and they have to go elsewhere,” the Kenova native and 1986 Marshall grad told students. “We have to bring that inspiration here.”

Smith was here to help judge a student innovation competition along with West Virginia-raised movie star Jennifer Garner and former Thundering Herd quarterback and NFL standout Chad Pennington. Seven teams came up with plans to tackle some of our region’s most difficult problems, such as substance abuse and improving technology, and all of the celebrities were impressed with the students’ preparation and creative ideas.

That is talent and brain power that can make a difference in West Virginia, helping existing businesses to grow and starting new businesses as well. But we need to do more to encourage that entrepreneurship, and help young people connect with the job opportunities in our state.

On April 21, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin co-sponsored a job fair in Huntington that attracted 160 employers, all looking for workers. The downturn in the coal industry and some traditional manufacturing areas has certainly cost the region many jobs, but the idea that there are no jobs available is a “total misnomer,” the senator says.

“There are plenty of jobs available for those willing to work,” Manchin said. But the key is having the skills - or being willing to get the training - needed to be candidates for the jobs available.

Although the lack of skilled and educated workers is a problem in much of the United States, it is really a crisis in West Virginia, which has the lowest percentage of residents with college or advanced degrees of any state in the union. Those lower education levels include both old and young. Less than half of Mountain State high school graduates go on to community college or a four-year college each year.

Changing that picture needs to be one of the state’s most critical goals. Taking advantage of the post-secondary programs at Mountwest, Marshall or other schools in the state will help young workers connect to good jobs available now. And inspiring our top graduates to apply their talents in West Virginia can help create even greater opportunities.

Online: https://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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