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Editorial: Déjà vu all over again? W.Va. legislators giving business tax breaks, while cutting social, public funding

From The Register-Herald of Beckley:

We are not sure what set of statistics or nonpartisan reports our legislators in Charleston are studying – if any – but clearly they are not giving much yard to those that speak to the realities on the ground here in West Virginia.

Maybe they don’t want the facts to confuse their political dogma.

But by almost every measure, the Legislature – controlled in both chambers by Republicans – is doing its level best to move this state away from prosperity and toward some notion of happy days that never really existed.

Little in what has been done or is being planned at the capitol will move the state forward. It’s as if a boogeyman is hiding behind a directional sign pointing to progress. If you are happy with the status quo or regress, you will get absolutely weak in the knees over this cadre of conservative ideologues.

Just this past week, the Senate passed a resolution that – if approved by the House, which we expect – will put abortion on the ballot this fall while another measure is moving towards the governor’s desk that denies Medicaid funds to women seeking an abortion for medically necessary reasons – as determined by a doctor and a patient, not a politician canvassing for votes.

Also, the governor appointed a vocal vaccine denier to a seat in the House of Delegates (insert eye roll, here). Nothing says “getting serious about healthy outcomes” quite like ignoring science. We would remind everyone that West Virginia continues to lead the nation in the rate of opioid overdose deaths, and the counties here in the southern end of the state have rates above and beyond the state’s.

West Virginia also exceeds national norms for the percentage of the population that is obese, has diabetes, smokes and lacks health insurance. To sum it all up, 24 percent of West Virginia adults – one in four – reports fair or poor health, according to the highly regarded Robert Wood Foundation. The national average? 16 percent.

What are legislators doing? Quibbling over a one or two percent pay raise for teachers – as education outcomes in the state rank among the nation’s lowest and there remain some 750 classrooms, K-12, in the state that need a qualified teacher. About 40 percent of our high school grads who head off to college are so ill prepared to engage the rigors of a higher education that they are sent to remedial classes as soon as they set foot on campus.

Meanwhile, Republicans are bent on passing a tax break on business inventories that, in seven years, will wipe $140 million from the annual state budget. The legislative promise is that eliminating the tax will provide a boost to the state’s business climate.

It’s a case of déjà vu – all over again.

The last time the state embarked on such a tax-cutting mission began in 2006 with a series of tax breaks that, combined with the downturn in coal and low energy prices, left the state in a budget hole so deep lawmakers resorted to hacking higher education and social services just to see the light of day.

The promise back then? Faster growth and more jobs. And, in retrospect, we can all grade that as a major failure.

It didn’t work then and it won’t work this time, either. The state has too many structural problems to address first, but those – education and human capital to say nothing about promoting a more accepting social climate – are largely being ignored or handed fig leaves.

Here is the bottom line: According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia ranked second highest in population decline over a one year period spanning 2016 and 2017 while all of West Virginia’s neighboring states saw gains. The demographics behind those numbers: The state’s population is growing older, birth rates are down and younger people are not choosing us.

And if anyone believes that restricting access to women’s health, showing an outward disdain for science and patronizing education while doubling down on tax breaks for large business concerns is going to make us more appealing to outsiders to say nothing of our own kids, guess again.

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