CHARLESTON – As we take some time to reflect upon the conclusion of the 83rd Session of the West Virginia Legislature, there is an opportunity to remember the accomplishments of the previous year, think about areas where we could improve, and look toward the long-term progress of our wonderful state.
West Virginians have so many reasons to be optimistic for a bright future. After choosing a new direction in leadership in 2014, the fruits of that decision have begun to multiply:
* We reformed West Virginia’s civil justice system and got this state – finally – removed from the national Judicial Hellhole List. In fact, we were nationally recognized as the most improved legal climate in the United States.
* We’re cutting through red tape like never before. West Virginia’s burdensome regulatory scheme has impeded growth and job creation for decades. Throughout the past four years, we have removed hundreds upon hundreds of outdated or unnecessary bureaucratic rules. We will not allow job creators who want to create prosperity for this state to be buried by paper any longer.
* This year, after many failed attempts in the past, we modernized our laws for natural gas drilling and development, which will enable us to maximize our vast natural resources, create downstream economic development, and, importantly, protect the land and mineral owners of this state.
* We took on West Virginia’s antiquated and complex tax code and worked toward establishing fairness and incentivizing the private sector job creation.
* We have worked to return control of the public education system to the teachers in the classroom. There is no question about it: Local boards know what is best for their students, and centralized control of public education from Charleston cannot produce world-class educational outcomes. Classroom teachers deserve the flexibility and authority to teach students without oppressive oversight from a faceless bureaucracy.
These and other fundamental reforms have reshaped West Virginia, and have put the state on a path for growth and prosperity – all to very encouraging results: West Virginia added 10,000 new jobs last year, and new job postings are way up; in the third quarter of last year, West Virginia led the nation in economic growth; student achievement and graduation rates are on the rise; tobacco and drug abuse are down; and, government spending is under control.
This year, for the first time in more than 30 years, the Legislature successfully delivered a balanced budget before the end of the 60-day regular session, saving our taxpayers an extended session at a cost of $35,000 per day. Additionally, this was done under the most unique of circumstances – a statewide teacher strike that lasted more than a full week, and whose resolution had to be factored into the budget.
In the face of adversity, we delivered. The Legislature approved the largest pay-raise and compensation enhancement package in state history for both teachers and other public employees, and we did this without raising a single dollar in taxes on our citizens. Given questionable revenue estimates, moving targets of demands by the teachers’ union leadership, and pressure to resolve this problem instantly, it is an accomplishment that not only did the Senate find a way to reward, equally and fairly, all of our hard-working state employees, but to do it fully within our means – one of our core principles.
In past years, West Virginia has been ineffectively managed from one fiscal crisis to the next. It takes political courage and determination to properly guide the budget and the policy direction of this wonderful state. Many previous politicians often sought to gain approval from particular special interest groups by providing unfunded pay raises and/or promises of future benefits, which has done nothing but sentence West Virginia to be among the poorest states in the nation.
Obviously, giving everybody what they want every time is the easy path. Typical politicians will always promise and vote for big pay raises. However, true public servants recognize that fiscal discipline often requires tough decisions. Holding the line on spending ultimately benefits all West Virginians, not just some.
West Virginia is now on the right path. Our state has garnered both national and international attention for the remarkable progress that has been achieved. We have abundant natural resources, great geographic location, growing economy, and controlled government spending. Let us always take time to give thanks and to celebrate these wonderful blessings as we continue our climb up the economic ladder of success. We may have differences along the route, but we are united in our common goal of progress and opportunity for all.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, represents the Fourth Senatorial District, which includes Jackson and Mason counties, and parts of Putnam and Roane counties. He was elected Senate President at the beginning of the 83rd Legislature in January 2017.