Public approval of the US Congress has been declining for many years. The public’s opinion of our national legislature currently sits at an all-time low of just 14%. Ineffectiveness, partisan bickering and being out of touch with everyday Americans drive those low ratings.
State legislatures were a different story, until recently. Americans generally approve of their state government and their state legislators. There are several reasons.
While the federal government seems to reach out into every area of life in this country and around the world, state budgets are dominated by schools, medical care, and public safety — three things that people like and want. State government is also much cheaper — federal income tax rates reach as high as 40%, as an example, while state rates top out at 6.5.%. So state government tends to offer more of what we want and for less money — making it a lot more popular than Washington DC.
Our state governments have a much smaller scale — the federal budget is something like 300 times the size of West Virginia’s, for example. Most state legislatures, including ours, are part-time, meaning the elected leaders have real jobs and spent most of their time in their own communities. Moreover, while state legislatures can borrow money, they cannot print it like the federal government, so they have to pass and balance a budget. State government is therefore more realistic and more effective. State governments can’t afford Washington DC gridlock.
But some politicians don’t like it that way. A determined group has brought DC-style politics to Charleston over the past two years. For them, gridlock is the goal.
West Virginia has over 200,000 current and former teachers, correctional officers, police and firefighters in a program called PEIA. These folks are working people — friends, neighbors, and importantly, taxpayers in this state. Sadly, our schoolteachers rank as some of the very lowest-paid in the country. In the past, though, when they did not get a raise, they were at least able to say they had a promise that their health insurance was covered.
The gridlock gang has what you can only call a hatred for government. They make no distinction between the wild world in DC and the practical, service-oriented leadership we formerly had in Charleston. They compare the funding of our schools and teachers to “holding a gun to the heads” of people. To this group, every tax dollar is somehow “stolen.” The sole allegiance in the gridlock gang is to corporate America — only billionaires and CEOs can operate “efficiently,” we are told, so we should hand our people over to their tender mercies.
This philosophy, if you can call it that, defined this recent legislative session. Radical Republicans took over and began handing out state money to corporations and billionaires, and refusing to honor our promises to schoolteachers and other public servants. Measures to fix the deplorable condition of our roads were defeated. Higher premiums were laid onto schoolteachers — an effective pay cut for them— to finance tax breaks to rich corporations. It’s a philosophy of self-service instead of public service.
It appears now that for the first time in many years, the Legislature will fail to agree on a budget. Keep in mind that the Republicans have full control of both Chambers — a 64-36 margin the House and an 18-16 margin in the Senate. But the two GOP-controlled bodies could not agree with each other on how much to soak the middle class to pay for what corporate America wanted from them. In other words, Republicans can’t get along and work productively with other Republicans, never mind Democrats. As a result, the People’s business doesn’t get done.
When budget problems hit DC, we’re used to it, and we don’t feel it very acutely here. But the disaster in Charleston will begin hurting West Virginia this year. Construction workers have lost their prevailing wages, and that will mean pay cuts throughout the construction business, and jobs being moved out of state. Union workers have lost their rights to bargain collectively on major issues, which also means pay cuts. PEIA members will be paying more and earning less as well. These wage cuts don’t just hurt the workers and their families. They hurt all the local businesses whose customers are being squeezed by the radicals in Charleston.
The corporate world that wants to control our politics thrives when wages are pushed down. That’s why even the minimum wage falls under attack from Republicans in thrall to corporate America. Workers don’t deserve a minimum wage, they tell us, while handing out corporate welfare by the millions.
Republicans like to say government should be “run like a business.” Let’s say they are right about that. If you are hiring someone to run your business, do you want someone who hates your business in charge?
West Virginia has enough problems. We cannot afford to hand the state government over to people who don’t want government to work. We need good schools, and good higher education to attract and retain talented young people. We need roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in good repair so that new businesses will be able to locate here. If the gridlock gang wants to go on right wing radio and say that raising money to pay for our schools, roads, and police is “tyranny,” let them. Or let them run for Congress and join the never-ending food fight in DC.
But we can’t have them in our legislature. Washington DC can print money to pay for its mistakes, and we all know it does. West Virginia can’t do that. We can’t afford Washington DC in Charleston. The gridlock gang has got to go.