West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s final State of the State address Wednesday puts the end of his term in keen sight. Unfortunately the state of West Virginia’s future prosperity is less defined as it resides in the form of an addled purgatory.
Tomblin has faced the daunting task of attempting to save a flailing economy (the state is facing a $250 million deficit for the current fiscal year according to to the Herald Dispatch) from the post effects of the “war on coal”, while also struggling to combat the ongoing drug problem, which escalated to the severity that it demanded the presence and oral action of President Barack Obama in October when the president visited the state capitol in Charleston.
These two fronts will be primary sticking points of the Tomblin’s speech, in which he will certainly abide by political rhetoric strategies to cast the cloak of invisibility upon the haggardly deprived people, industry, infrastructure and other entities in the state of West Virginia.
“The war on coal”, which could at this point be renamed the “defeat of coal” will take up residence on the tip of Tomblin’s tongue. Tomblin would be well-advised to take a stance of revolutionary valediction when it comes to coal’s place in the future plans of the West Virginia economy. The assertion of renewable and clean energy has made coal into an antiquated natural resource.
The battle to maintain coal has already sapped some of the little revenue it continues to generate according to Katie Valentine and Kiley Kroh of thinkprogress.org. Tomblin must seek alternatives elsewhere to invest such revenue to diversify the state’s economy.
There is, however, a natural resource West Virginia has in plenty on the nation’s radar, which could reap valuable compensation: Marcellus and Utica shale. The fracking of this shale stimulates the flow of natural gas, providing another energy source.
Much of West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania make up the hotbed of the supply of this shale in the United States according to southpointe.net. In October, Tomblin joined Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf at the Tri-State Shale Summit in which the trio signed an agreement pledging to regional support and enhanced cooperation to continue this development of natural gas in the region according to governor.wv.gov.
The development is a positive for the West Virginia economy and Tomblin will offer praise to the fracking industry for the creation of more than $300 million in revenue according to pennbpc.org, but because of the scarcity of the shale throughout the country, Tomblin may want to consider imposing an even higher severance tax rate to maximize the boost to the state’s fragile economy.
While the shale does provide the opportunity for industry to form in West Virginia, the emphasis on clean and alternative forms of new energy such as wind, solar and nuclear makes fracking for natural gas more of a stopgap causing the industry and the jobs provided by it to have a foreseeable shelf life.
The potential revenue derived from the shale resources has offered West Virginia a second wind after the downturn of coal, and Tomblin would do well to capitalize upon it and invest in a more diversified economic landscape.
As elegiac as the state’s economy is, the state’s drug problem may present an even more downtrodden scene.
Tomblin will elaborate on the advances in terms of support for substance and drug abusers in the mold of both the effectiveness of established programs and plans for future endeavors. Tomblin created a statewide 24-hour substance abuse help line in September, and an update on its utilization will be on the docket for his address.
However, the conflict on drugs doesn’t cease with abusers. The medical and recreational use of marijuana is another debatable point—one that has dug a generational divide. Amongst elders, marijuana legalization is often met with boisterous aspersion, however, the more youthful population possesses greater support.
Although self-interest may serve as a stimulus for the younger generation, the economic impact, in terms of generated revenue, cannot be ignored from a state which has theoretically uprooted its couch cushions in a desperate search for funds.
Colorado, which has legalized marijuana, collected over $70 million in revenue taxes from marijuana in the 2014-15 fiscal year, and a 2010 study from Cato said if legalization were applied nationally, federal and state tax revenues would generate $8.7 billion according to the Huffington Post. Also, the economy would reap additional benefits when considering the deletion of costs devoted toward law enforcement and incarceration concerning marijuana cases.
In an ironic twist, the revenue generated from the legalization of one drug’s use could be implemented to enhance rehabilitation programs and medical care for users who abuse more damaging drugs and substances.
Beyond the use of natural resources and the drug issue, the governor will likely delve into the state’s cuts to education. Tomblin ought to seek to explore innovative and entrepreneurial ideas and programs through state universities as a way to generate more revenue for the education system.
Universities across the nation have already done so, devising and implementing committees and organizations to further analyze the cost efficiency of university fees and course design. Among these examples are Richard Stockton College’s Stockton Affiliated Services Inc. (SASI) and University of West Florida’s “business direct support organization” (DSO) according to aascu.org’s “Rethinking Revenue” by Stephen G. Pelletier. The article contains numerous other examples of universities maximizing revenue through revamping old buildings, leasing parking lots, renting land and exploring different tuition models.
In his final State of the State address, Tomblin must address the shortfalls of West Virginia across a multitude of platforms. The “defeat of coal” reigns as an inevitable demerit on Tomblin’s record, but he can salvage his standing and the state of West Virginia by exploring innovative methods of increasing revenue as well as fully utilizing West Virginia’s most valuable assets.