One of the main reasons for Gov. Jim Justices inexplicably high approval ratings is his uncanny ability to speak from either side of his mouth on any subject.
Especially during the peak of the pandemic, Justice told West Virginians they needed to be vaccinated, but also reassured them that if for whatever reason they didn’t want to get their shots, they had the right to opt out. Essentially, he was telling both anti-vaccination and anti-vaccination workers exactly what they wanted to hear.
With his current nationwide campaign opposing Amendment 2 and campaigning for income tax cuts, Justice finds himself in a similar position, immediately telling voters how great the state economy is – and proclaiming himself the greatest governor in the history of the state state – while at the same time warning himself that things could go south at any moment.
Or, as Justice so eloquently put it during his Anti-Amendment 2 rallies, “Doop Happens.”
At the same time, the judiciary maintains that the state economy is strong enough to absorb its income tax cuts but too weak to risk abolishing corporate inventory and equipment taxes.
It certainly doesn’t take a financial genius to know that West Virginia’s economy, with its over-reliance on the coal and natural gas industries, is extremely cyclical and volatile.
It also doesn’t take a genius to realize that the current economic recovery is being fueled by the infusion of billions of dollars in government stimulus programs into the state, along with a post-pandemic surge in both consumer and global energy demand — all temporary Conditions.
All state governments have experienced fiscal booms, research from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows, but as noted in an analysis published last week, those good economic times are drawing to a close:
“Budget surpluses and related gains are not expected to continue at the same rate in fiscal 2023. Higher-than-projected tax revenue growth, historic federal aid and record fiscal reserves have supported state fiscal positions over the past two fiscal years — but policymakers are now at a turning point as they anticipate several challenges ahead, including weaker economic growth amid tighter monetary policy and historically high inflation and a cut in federal aid.”
Economic winter is upon us for West Virginia. It’s just a matter of timing.
The fact that the judiciary barred the state budget office from releasing the traditional six-year budget forecast is foreshadowing.
You can already see the economic storm clouds gathering.
PEIA ended fiscal 2021-22 on June 30 with a deficit of $92 million, a deficit so disheartening that the PEIA Finance Board at its October 20 meeting did not approve a draft plan for 2023-24, which should be submitted to the insured for public comment.
The judiciary has specifically cited problems with PEIA in public appearances against Amendment 2, suggesting the legislature may need to find up to $100 million to keep PEIA out of the red in the next fiscal year.
Ironically, Justice himself is at least partially to blame for PEIA’s financial woes, ordering that PEIA not increase premiums in line with pay increases for public schools and state employees in 2018 and 2022, effectively giving those employees double discounts on their health insurance.
We could also look at government investments.
From June 30, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the value of the Investment Management Board’s account, which is primarily invested in US equities, fell by US$336 million from US$5.086 billion to US$4.75 billion .
As of August 31, the most recent report available online, this account was worth $4.986 billion and likely continued to recover last week.
For fiscal year 2022, the board’s return on investments in the teachers’ pension system was minus 6.3% and for the public employee pension system – minus 6.4%.
As anyone with a 401(k) or individual retirement plan, or IRA, knows, the stock market has not responded kindly to Federal Reserve rate hikes in recent months aimed at curbing the global phenomenon of inflation.
I’m sure many out there would be content with a 6.4% loss over the past year and I seem to remember the last time I treated the Investment Management Board as a working stiff that there was one Reported ROI of 21% for fiscal 2021.
However, in years in which pension fund investments do not achieve the prescribed return of 7.5%, the state must make up the difference in order to keep the funds financially healthy.
Meanwhile, years of government budgets have essentially resulted in budget cuts for government agencies and higher and public education, and the adverse impact of these cuts is seen in everything from foster care to prisons to educational outcomes.
Like a broken clock twice a day, Justice might be right that trying to catch up on $600 million a year in property tax cuts is just too risky an endeavor.
Meanwhile, the right-wing Tax Foundation last week ranked West Virginia’s corporate tax climate as the 20th best in the US (earlier this year, CNBC ranked West Virginia 10th best for the cost of doing business).
With test scores for West Virginia public school children nationwide at a record low of 49, perhaps state leaders should shift their priorities to something other than passing business tax cuts.
According to the Mayo Clinic, two symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder are: “Have inflated self-esteem” and “Expect to be recognized as superior even without accomplishments to justify it.”
It also states that such individuals have difficulty dealing with what they perceive to be criticism and “react with anger and contempt, trying to belittle the other person in order to make themselves superior.”
Is Justice the Greatest Governor in State History? I didn’t have him in the top five of the governors I’ve personally covered.
(I think treating the governorship as a full-time job is one of the requirements to advance in rank.)
For the second time this year, a district judge removed an ineligible candidate from state ballots.
It might have taken some detective work on the part of the Secretary of State’s office to deduce that Andrea Garrett Kiessling did not meet the five-year residency requirement to run for Senate.
Now independent Henry “Lee” Forbes from Summers County was removed from the ballot for the 10th Senatorial Circuit general election, and for one very obvious reason: the incumbent Senator Jack Woodrum is already from Summers County, and in multi-county districts, state law prohibits two senators from residing in the same county.
A simple cross-check by someone in the Secretary of State’s office could have uncovered the problem with Forbes’ candidacy.
Meanwhile, a recent report found that West Virginia ranked 48th in voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections and 49th in the 2020 election.
Part of the Secretary of State’s job is to encourage voter turnout, and judging by these abysmal rankings, this is one area where that is the case Mac Warner missing badly.
Come on Mac, step up your game.
Speaking of elections, it strikes me that there has been a noticeable lack of campaign advertising so far this election cycle. (I think I’ve heard and seen more advertisements for Charleston city race candidates than for legislative or congressional races.)
That being said, Sen. Ron StollingsD-Boone, has a TV commercial that is a great example of what a Democratic campaign spot should look like.
Stollings explains that he is neither too far left nor right and rules from the center, then names some of his accomplishments as Senator, including promoting the development of the former Hobet mine site and expanding the Hatfield-McCoy ATV routes.
Meanwhile, Stolling’s adversary, Mike Stuart, appears to be attempting to announce a $325 million solar farm in Hobet and airs an ad that is stunning in its ignorance. In it, Stuart claims that solar power only creates two jobs: one for the guy who sprays Windex on the panels and one for the guy with the paper towels.
Surely Stuart needs to know that nationally, solar power accounts for far more jobs (about 260,000) than coal mining (about 62,000).
Finally, if you need a mnemonic to remember how to vote the four constitutional amendments on the ballot, here’s one: Imagine a doubly emphatic sequel to the 1920s Broadway musical “No, No, Nanette.” years with the title “No, No, No Nein, Nanette.”