CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With West Virginia trying to “reopen” its economy from the impact of the coronavirus, State Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, 1st District – Hancock, has issued an open letter to Governor Jim Justice:
Dear Governor Justice,
I write today out of concern for West Virginia’s working families and to share my thoughts with you on how to rebuild the state’s economy. It was in a precarious position prior to the pandemic and now it’s in a free fall. I hope that you’ll consider my perspective as I’ve learned a lot in my 16 years in the Legislature.
According to financial forecasts, West Virginia will be one of the hardest hit states by COVID-19. It’s projected that we could lose as much as 40% of our revenue and experience a shortfall of more than a billion dollars next fiscal year. While we had hoped that the funds provided by the federal CARES Act would be the answer to our problems, we now know that it can’t be used to backfill our budget. So, what can we do?
First and foremost, we need a road map to find our way back to financial stability.
By this, I mean that we need for a comprehensive economic impact study to be performed by West Virginia University. The economists at WVU must be hired to tell us precisely how COVID-19 will impact GDP, jobs, future revenue, and other key economic indicators. We need to know how much will be required to address the shortfall and that means having a reliable forecast. Understanding the full scope of the problem is half the battle and right now, very little is understood.
In addition, going forward we need to have full-time economists working in the Department of Revenue and in the Legislature. We need to add bright young minds to state government to help guide us through these uncertain times, with civil service protection so that they’re not afraid to tell us the truth, even if it isn’t pretty. All too often the officials who testify before legislative committees are afraid to give us the facts for fear of losing their position. This must stop.
Next, we must create a plan to capture new revenue. This should include suspending various corporate welfare programs and enacting combined worldwide tax reporting. If we take these actions, we can add over $100 million annually to our bottom line.
We also need to ensure that essential services continue without interruption and that we can meet our bond obligations. How will we make the payments on your Roads to Prosperity program? How do we keep the State Police fully staffed? How do we ensure that senior services do not suffer? Will we have to borrow money from the Federal Reserve Bank? Once again, a robust economic analysis from WVU will help to show us the way.
Finally, what about that $1.25 billion that the federal government has given us? While it can’t fill the huge hole in our budget, it can be used to issue grants to small businesses. I encourage you to use a significant portion of those funds in this manner, as a group of State Senators recently suggested.
Thank you for your service to the state and please know that I stand ready to work with you to help the citizens of West Virginia. Take care and may God Bless you.
Delegate Randy Swartzmiller