Justice smells the flowers

You can’t criticize Gov. Jim Justice for not smelling the roses here in West Virginia.

During a press conference regarding the Public Employees Insurance Agency the other day, Justice lashed out at the press. We focus too much on the negative and not enough on the positive, he said.

“Why don’t we write about something that says, ‘Come to West Virginia. We’ve solved the riddle on PEIA. We’ve solved the riddle on thing after thing after thing. The flowers are pretty and we’re proud of ourselves,'” Justice suggested.

Well, the flowers are pretty, governor. We Mountaineers have plenty of reasons to be proud.

One reason for that pride is that many West Virginians tend to be realists. We threw away the rose-colored glasses long ago.

Argue with me, if you like, about whether the following matters are worth coverage by the press, or should be ignored or downplayed in the interest of making out-of-staters think things are great here:

• Start with the drug abuse crisis, of course. We have the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

• Corruption continues to be our middle name. Suspended state Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry has been arrested by the FBI.

• We don’t even know how many vehicles state government owns. Some agencies can’t find equipment on their inventory lists.

• Uncle Sam gave us nearly $150 million to help flood victims last year. Up until a few weeks ago, just $1.1 million of it had been spent. Woody Thrasher, formerly secretary of the state Commerce Department, was fired for that failure.

• Even the state’s big success during the past year, an announcement Chinese interests would pump $83.7 billion into Mountain State ventures, has been tainted by suggestions some state officials may have had ulterior motives in their handling of the matter.

• At least our budget is balanced this year, without major cuts in spending. But revenue thus far outpaces spending by only about half a percentage point.

• Good news: Our workforce participation rate (percentage of civilians 16 years of age and older who have jobs) no longer is below 50 percent. Now, it’s 54 percent — still the lowest in the nation.

• Our poverty rate is 17.9 percent, compared to the national average of 12.7 percent.

• Our education attainment is awful, at or near the lowest in the nation. Just 19.6 percent of West Virginians have earned bachelor’s degrees or better. The national rate is 30.3 percent.

• Justice’s definition of solving the PEIA riddle is a bit puzzling. Last we heard, the only conclusion reached by a special panel formed to find a solution was that Mountain State taxpayers need to come up with an additional $50 million a year to avoid premium increases and/or coverage limits for public employees who rely on the agency for health insurance.

• Then, there’s the fact that our governor seems to have trouble keeping the property taxes paid for some of his businesses.

Don’t get me wrong. West Virginia is almost heaven in many ways. Among them is that I can’t imagine anywhere with finer people.

And we have addressed some of our problems. The budget is balanced, if only barely. The natural gas boom holds great potential.

That money from China will do a world of good. We’ve even made some progress battling substance abuse.

Some state leaders have great, achievable plans for our state.

So this is not intended to portray West Virginia as a hopeless case. Not at all.

But truly hopeless cases often result from people refusing to recognize the challenges they face.

Making our state’s economy a better place for our children and grandchildren will require recognizing what we need to improve and working hard to make things better.

The flowers are pretty, governor. But there are some weeds to be seen, too.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.