West Virginia: Looking Forward

By T.L. HEADLEY, MBA, MAT, MA
I have read a lot of people talking about the economic problems currently faced by Terry 2West Virginia. It seems the eco-left doesn’t want to own its crime and accept that their fight to kill coal with the help of the Obama Administration has essentially destroyed the economy of an entire region of this country.
They cast about looking for excuses — natural gas, the so-called “resource curse”, pretty much anything they can latch onto to deflect criticism and responsibility.
They call for the passage of additional taxes on coal, oil, gas, timber, etc. Arguing that these industries that remain should be forced to bear even more of a burden, pushing them further out of the market, in order to pay higher taxes (a “future fund”) to support social programs to help the poor — poor that resulted in large part from their own brain-dead policies.
Let’s look at some of their claims….
First, there is no “resource curse.” To claim so is to blame the band-aid for the cut. West Virginia’s limiting factor is its geography. These mountains isolate people into small pockets and severely limit the single most important factor in diversifying an economy – easily developable land. The result is a small population living in small pockets that can’t support a broad-based economy. The poverty that would otherwise exist there is alleviated by the resource — which is not dependent on population or even infrastructure beyond the basics of a road or rail system to get their product to market.
Second, some talk about the need for a “future fund.” We have had one for 40+ years in the coal severance taxes that have been paid — which has amounted to more than $2 BILLION in the past four years alone. Could they have been started earlier? Perhaps, but what has been the result of having them for the past four decades?
They were squandered in large part by using them to fund holes in the budget of the state. Very little (seven percent of collections) was targeted back to coal-producing counties. Most went to large population areas like Charleston and the eastern Panhandle.
Clearly, had the 10s of BILLIONS of dollars collected over the past 40 years been set aside as a revolving loan fund used for economic development, combined with a focused effort to turn former surface mine lands into economic development hubs or even to get counties to develop true economic development plans, we would not be looking at a modern day dust bowl in the coalfields.
Even a portion of that money would have made a tremendous difference. Instead, the money went into the black hole of the state budget and county economic development efforts were invariably headed up by “Boss Hogg’s nephew Hughey Hogg.”
Yes, there is plenty of blame to go around, but let’s not blame the band-aid for the cut.
There is still time to turn this around, but we need to support the industry that can and has provided us with the economic base to work from over the past 70 years. There is 200 years of coal left in the ground in West Virginia. We need to concentrate on fixing the problems that are hurting coal mining, then make much better use of the money coming from that industry over the next few decades.
THAT is the path forward.

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