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EDITORIAL: W.Va. lawmakers must embark on new initiatives on the economy

The Inter-Mountain editorial

Increasing salaries paid to public school teachers in West Virginia was a step toward improving the state’s economy. The action, taken earlier this year by legislators, should make it easier to attract and retain educators.

But, as West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee pointed out last week, the process of gaining those pay raises sidetracked other important initiatives.

Much of state officials’ time and energy during the closing days of the 60-day legislative session was taken up by dealing with a work stoppage by educators and school service personnel.

When lawmakers went into session, there were big plans, many of them centered on the West Virginia Forward strategy developed by WVU, Marshall University and the state Department of Commerce. Proposals linked to West Virginia Forward included better methods of attracting tourists and providing tax relief to job creators.

But much of it was shelved when schools shut down. That “took all the oxygen out of any conversations,” as Gee noted last Monday.

That is not to say there has not been progress in implementing some West Virginia Forward agendas. Much of it has come from WVU. For example, the university’s health care arm has expanded services to West Virginians substantially during the past year.

Still, more needs to be done, and it will require action by the Legislature.

Lawmakers’ next regular session, early next year, offers an opportunity, as Gee explained. This year’s elections will be over and — let us all hope — politics can be put aside for a time in the interest of making life better for Mountain State residents.

There will be challenges, of course. Among them will be making changes to the Public Employees Insurance Agency, demanded by teacher and school service personnel unions.

Unless lawmakers find some way to embark on new initiatives to grow the state’s economy, however, the future for West Virginians will not be as promising as it could be.

All sorts of reasons will be found to avoid decisive action next winter. But paraphrasing an oft-repeated question is relevant:

If not then, when?

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