Population

Reversing decline is important to W.Va.

West Virginians have faced one of those chicken-or-the-egg questions for many years. It’s time to answer it.

Ours is the only state that has lost population during the past 50 years. Reversing that decline is the most critical challenge facing our state.

But how? What do we need to do to keep people from leaving West Virginia and convince more to move here?

Improving our economy will bring more people to the Mountain State and keep those who live here now from leaving. More people will reinvigorate our economy.

Which comes first? That is the chicken-or-the-egg question. Republican leaders in the Legislature want to answer it by making West Virginia a much more attractive place to live and raise families. Gov. Jim Justice agrees with their idea, at least in principle.

Eliminating the state income taxes on individuals, families and businesses would do the trick, lawmakers behind the idea believe. They point to the common denominator involved in several other states with good economies, including Florida and Texas. It is that their residents do not pay income taxes.

Think about it: How many people do we know who live just across the border from us, perhaps commuting to work in West Virginia, who would think seriously about moving to our state if they could get out from under income taxes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland or Kentucky?

How much easier would it be to attract new job providers, perhaps in high-tech industries, if our economic development people could tell them, “Oh, by the way, neither you nor your employees will pay income taxes in West Virginia.”

It will not be easy. Personal and corporate income taxes provide about half the revenue for our $4 billion-plus general revenue budget. There is no politically popular way to replace that much lost income for state government.

Legislators are pondering a variety of ways to do that. Within a few days, we should have a concrete proposal — if lawmakers decide to proceed with the most dramatic state financing upheaval in most memories.

Should they? Would it not be easier, more comfortable to stick with the current system, even if it means regular budget crises, ever-increasing taxes and continuing to see ourselves ranked 49th or 50th in comparison to other states?

We’ve taken the easy way out for generations.

Look where that has gotten us

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