CHARLESTON – The U.S. economy is booming, resulting in the lowest unemployment rate in fifty years. That’s great news for families across the country looking for economic opportunities that will make their version of the American Dream a reality.
Sadly, folks looking to do the same in the Mountain State aren’t so lucky. While there are pockets of progress, too many West Virginians are missing out on the strongest U.S. economy in our lifetime.
Why? Because for decades, a good old boy system drove out competition and any hope for economic diversity. The state government created a top-down, protectionist-driven regulatory system that served its interests over that of the common people.
I’m proud of what West Virginians can accomplish despite the obstacles in their way. Generations of my family and thousands of others have mined and farmed to make a tough but honest living and provide for their families in a place where that isn’t always easy. Because of their sacrifices that allowed our family to stay in the state we love, I’ve been blessed to witness the determination and true grit that constitutes the spirit of all West Virginians. Its high time that we unleash the power of that spirit by coming together in order to remove the barriers that have held us back for too long.
We know what works. Instead of top-down mandates, bottom-up approaches that empower individuals to find and enact solutions are more practical and effective.
First, we must prioritize reforming our outdated and two-tiered criminal justice system. We must focus on reforming sentencing so that the punishment truly fits the crime. Policies should restore victims and laws should be smart on crime and soft on taxpayers. President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan First Step Act, which allows people who have paid their debt to society a second chance, and we should look to make similar reforms in West Virginia.
Next, we need to keep government within its means. Lawmakers should reject tax hikes, spending increases and budget gimmicks. Struggling West Virginians cannot afford to pay for out-of-control spending. Instead, policymakers should be looking to enact the kind of comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform that puts money back in the pockets of every West Virginian. To do so, lawmakers need to rid the tax code of special interest giveaways and end corporate welfare schemes, starting with greyhound racing subsidies. Government should not be picking economic winners and losers.
West Virginians deserve an economy that works for everyone—where every person can earn success and live a meaningful life. But too often, well intentioned rules and regulations get in the way, and are implemented without an accurate understanding of the impact they have on everyday West Virginians’ lives and wallets. Creating a Legislative Office of Fiscal and Regulatory Affairs would provide lawmakers and citizens with unbiased knowledge on the real impact of regulations to help them make smarter decisions for our state.
We should also commit to lessening the burden of unnecessary occupational licensure and empower more people to find fulfilling work. Many times, instead of protecting the public, these licenses merely limit competition and keep honest folks out of an occupation. West Virginia needs to review all licensure through a lens of best practices and least-restrictive means of ensuring public health and safety.
Our judicial system lacks sufficient checks and balances, resulting in a significant absence of accountability. West Virginia needs a system that is fair, predictable, and provides conclusive decisions. To achieve that, we need to join 41 other states in creating an Intermediate Court of Appeals.
The status quo for our children’s education needs to change. We should continue to reimagine our K-12 education system to help students fulfill their potential. Every child deserves access to the educational opportunity that is right for them, regardless of their ZIP code or family’s income.
If you want to turn the state around in five years instead of 25, join us. These and other proven solutions will get West Virginians back on the path to prosperity.
Huffman is state director of Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia. You can view AFP-WV’s Pathway to Prosperity Legislative Agenda at WVpathway.com. This opinion piece originally appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.