The bevy of choices confronting any given state legislature at any given moment in time can be boiled down to a single, crystallizing question: Are our elected leaders living for today, or are they thinking about tomorrow?
"Today" decisions, or appeasing special interests "haves" worried about the here-and-now, are universally more comfortable. But tomorrow's reality, a hotbed of change and uncertainty, remains inevitable.
West Virginians were reminded of the latter last week by the Corporation for Economic Development (CFED), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that's been ranking the business climates of individual U.S. states for 20 years. Its 2007 edition says our economy is the nation's worst -- we rank 50th of 50 states -- the one-and-only to earn an "F" in their three graded categories.
CFED says our economy isn't growing fast enough, it isn't producing innovative private companies and it isn't even effectively marshaling the resources it has -- both human and natural -- with an eye to West Virginia's future.
Such criticism is worth contemplating as our Legislature winds things down for the year, giving nary a nod to measures that would foster job creation or investment in the Mountain State.
It's true that sea changes, good and bad, take time. We didn't plummet to America's economic bottom overnight, and we won't turn Kanawha County into Silicon Valley by the next election cycle.
Alas, that we rank "50 of 50" currently isn't the fault of our reigning lawmakers. But if we're still stuck in last place in the year 2020, you'll know where to point the finger. That is, if you know where to point.
By then most of today's delegates and senators will be long gone, lurking without formal designation or its accompanying public scrutiny. Just as many of West Virginia's lawmakers of the 1980s and 1990s are today, they'll be out of office and out of the spotlight, effectively off-the-hook for their shortsighted decisions still plaguing our economy.
Yet the tradition continues. This time around (again), on "tomorrow" issues like tax cuts, tackling lawsuit abuse and curbing our wayward, anti-business attorney general, our lawmakers seem content to defer. We elected them, and that's their choice.
But when they do, let's for once at least be honest in confronting what exactly they are deferring. "Today" decisions come at the expense of West Virginia's future.
Will we ever try to keep up with other states? Will we ever enter the arena and compete for the same jobs and investment? Or are we content to embalm West Virginia as a wild, wonderful nostalgic place that's only nice to visit?
We can wait until next year, but the hardest decisions won't get any easier. They never do.