It is no secret that West Virginia faces some big challenges as a state.
Our economy is changing with many being left behind. Our infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of reinvestment. Our communities are struggling with how to take care of those most vulnerable and in need. On top of this, population loss and a declining tax base compounds the difficulty in solving these problems at the local level.
How do we get broadband to the rural communities that need it most? How do we help communities struggling with water and sewer systems in need of updating? How can we finally fix our roads and transportation system to attract new business opportunities? How can we remediate and put our old mine sites back into productive use to rebuild our economy? How do we rebuild and renovate our schools to keep our children, teachers, and school employees safe? These are the questions that we must answer now if we are to put our state back on the right track.
In order to meet these challenges, we must think about big solutions and how to best plan for the future. Despite our best efforts and the best efforts of our colleagues, the West Virginia state legislature did not pass the Coal Communities Comeback Plan this past session, to our detriment.
The plan would have directed the Public Service Commission to study the infrastructure improvements necessary to revitalize our communities and look for pragmatic economic opportunities for West Virginians. The fact is that coal country in West Virginia has contributed billions of dollars to the state’s general revenue fund in the form of coal severance tax and now has little to show for it in terms of infrastructure and economic opportunity.
We know it is very likely that federal infrastructure investment is coming and our state needs to be organized in order to create the best possible plan to use these resources. Areas like southern West Virginia have been most affected by these issues over the last number of years and stand to gain the most benefit. West Virginia has helped to power the United States for a long time and our people are owed a debt for the hard work they’ve done to benefit other states.
On the federal level, we still have a great opportunity to help communities in West Virginia. The American Jobs Plan will invest in rebuilding our infrastructure with American-made materials, while creating good, union jobs in our state. It is also noteworthy that this will be a bi-partisan effort, with a full 76% of Americans supporting the implementation of the American Jobs Plan, including 72% of independents and 68% of Republican voters.
Fighting to help our coal communities make a strong comeback, rebuild our infrastructure, and create good paying jobs in the process is something we can all support.
(Editor’s note — State Senator Ron Stollings is a Boone County Democrat while House Delegate Ed Evans is a Democrat from McDowell County).