CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice announced earlier this month that state revenue collections are continuing to surge forward.
Justice said in a news release that it was excellent news for West Virginia. He said the state had a surplus of $36 million for fiscal year (FY) 2018, the first time the state has finished a fiscal year in the black without a budget cut since 2012.
Justice also said in the news release that the General Revenue Fund Collections set an all-time high of $4.245 billion.
John Deskins, director of West Virginia University's (WVU) Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said the economy has been doing well the last year and a half.
"We suffered terribly for several years and the economy kind of hit bottom at the end of 2016, but 2017 was a good year and we think 2018 will be a good year as well," Deskins said in an interview with The West Virginia Record.
Deskins said the state has added about 6,500 jobs
"That sounds like a lot, but we actually lost about 26,000 jobs over several years through the last quarter of 2016," Deskins said. "But, we've added back about 6,500 since then."
Deskins said gross domestic product (GDP) was very strong the last year and he believes it will continue to do well in 2018.
"The notion of tax revenue doing better is certainly not out of the blue," Deskins said. "It is consistent with the underlying economic numbers."
Deskins said although those numbers are looking up, the state faces a lot of challenges.
"We still have the lowest rate of labor force participation in the country," Deskins said. "Our rate is still 10 points behind the national rate. Now, our unemployment rate is down in West Virginia — it's down close to 5 percent, which is a good thing. The real problem that we face isn't the unemployment rate, it's the labor force participation rate. It's dead last in the country."
Deskins said the state's population numbers and migration numbers still don't look promising, and West Virginia stillranks 49th among the 50 states in terms of per capita personal income.
"We have a whole host of challenges that still remain," Deskins said.
Deskins said coal and gas are doing OK, but he believes the bounce back that was seen in coal won't happen again—it will remain stable. He said he thinks gas will continue to do well.
"One thing to note is that the gains that we've seen have been concentrated, not spread out evenly across the state," Deskins said. "They're spread out about six or seven counties out of the 55. The remaining counties haven't seen a whole lot of difference."
Deskins said this can still create broad benefits for the state, but, it doesn't negate the fact that all regions are not doing the same.
In his news release, Justice said during the first month of FY 2019, General Revenue Fund Collections were above estimate by $32.4 million.
"Sales tax collections, personal income tax collections, consumer sales tax collections were all up over 13 percent in July," Justice said in the news release. "This is incredible."
Justice said the state has made outstanding progress but there are still a lot of people hurting. "The more progress we make, the more we can help them," Justice said in the release.