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Rick Wilson: How much poverty budgeting will WV take?


Charleston Gazette-Mail opinion column

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about how the website WalletHub came up with a list of the best and worst places for millennials to live. It’s no surprise that West Virginia came out on the bottom. But, as my friend Stephen Smith wrote with Pastor Mason Ballard in a Gazette-Mail op-ed online, it’s the best state to come to, if you want to make a difference.

And God knows we need that.

One of the reasons West Virginia might be unattractive to younger newcomers is the fact that it’s kind of falling apart, and the Republican majority in the Legislature apparently wants to pass a poverty budget that keeps things that way, by cutting K-12 and higher education, slashing social services and neglecting to invest in our people and infrastructure.

Gazette-Mail reporter Phil Kabler had a great riff on that theme in a recent column in which he envisioned the state as a shabby and unmaintained apartment for rent in a run-down neighborhood where schools are neglected and teachers laid off. Who would want to live in a place like that unless they had to?

One thing that could make things better in the short term is a budget that invests in people and infrastructure, along the lines that Gov. Jim Justice has proposed. Before a certain memorable news conference, lots of people I know were hoping he would veto the Legislature’s proposed budget. And some of us, including me, sounded the alarm and urged people to contact the governor in support of a veto.

I guess that’s something we can scratch off the list. And that’s no (metaphorical) BS.

It’s hard to tell how the budget battle will go, but there’s a lot riding on it. And a lot depends on whether and how much ordinary West Virginians are willing to stand up in support of the kind of budget that protects our people and gets us back on the road.

I do hope that, if and when a budget deal is sealed, it won’t involve a “compromise” that shifts the weight of taxes to those who can least afford it and sets up another fiscal crisis down the road.

Meanwhile, recent events have convinced me that I should devote my remaining days to updating the state motto to bring it up (or down) to date. “Mountaineers are always free” was great, but more suited to the days when our appetite for fighting for ordinary working people was more apparent.

My suggested replacement is: “You can’t make this **** up.” At least until such time as the other one fits again.

(Note: I even started looking for how to say this in Latin, until I was reminded that, as of 2016, the Legislature made English the state’s official language. I guess I can scratch that off the list, too.)

Rick Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Economic Justice Project, is a Gazette contributing columnist.

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