There is no doubt that West Virginia is facing an economic and a fiscal crisis. We are reminded constantly of our troubled times. Miners being laid off because of President Obama’s War on Coal. A majority of our adults not working. High unemployment. Dead last in job growth because we are the most over-regulated state in the nation. A $353 million state budget deficit that is only going to grow in the short term because of the dramatic decline of severance taxes and the ripple effect it will have on income and sales taxes.
Now more than ever, we need a new direction. A new plan to move our state forward. We can no longer keep doing the same things and expecting different results. As a small businessman, I know what it takes to meet budgets, control costs, and above all, create jobs. These are the very principles I am applying in my duties as president of the West Virginia Senate.
Last year, the West Virginia Legislature took dramatic steps to pass comprehensive legal reforms that have already resulted in lower insurance rates. In all, we were able to get 10 bills passed and signed into law to help relieve the budgets of families and small businesses. In the first half of this year’s session, we have taken bold steps to jump start our economy by passing the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act that sends a message loud and clear to the rest of the country that this state is a place open for new jobs.
We also reformed our labor laws by eliminating West Virginia’s prevailing wage rate. This protects taxpayers, increases capital for new construction and allows more local businesses to compete for public projects instead of protecting a rigged system for a select few. This will get more of our state’s workers back to work.
These efforts faced great opposition from special interest groups who simply want to protect the status quo. But, West Virginia must change if we are going to compete, get our economy growing, and create jobs. We must create a new plan that will enable us to grow.
The Senate also has taken steps to help our coal industry get back on its feet. We are working to make sure that a tax that is set to expire does so. And, we are working to repeal outdated regulations that are strangling businesses’ ability to grow and create jobs.
A new plan for our state must be rooted in development of the infrastructure of tomorrow. That’s why the Senate is acting to ensure every part of our state has access to high speed broadband by providing tax credits for broadband development in rural areas. We also will take up efforts to fund the middle mile across West Virginia. We must work quickly towards a goal of meeting the FCC’s 25 Mbps standard for every region of our state. The expansion of broadband is a jobs bill for both the short term to build it and the long term, as it will spur entrepreneurship and increase education opportunities for students.
Many people have said we are taking up too many tough issues that will be used against us politically. Each member of the Legislature got elected to do what they think is right. Despite some of the bitter disagreements recent actions have created, I firmly believe we need to advance a new plan to move our state forward that creates jobs. There are only two types of jobs I care about – good jobs, and jobs right here in West Virginia.
Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, represents the Sixth Senatorial District, which includes Wayne, Mingo, McDowell and Mercer counties.