West Virginia needs an advanced, forward-thinking legislature that can tackle the complex problems we face. Unfortunately, we have a legislature that cannot even do the basic work of maintaining our state. Virtually everyone recognizes that the condition of our roads cannot be tolerated, but the hard-right wingers in the legislature have killed the bill to fix it.

House Finance Committee takes highway improvement bill off the agenda. Chair Nelson says support not there.
— Hoppy Kercheval (@HoppyKercheval) March 8, 2016

Ideologically motivated and religiously zealous, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates has simply abdicated the most fundamental responsibility of government – maintaining the basic infrastructure our state runs on. Governor Tomblin’s blue-ribbon commission developed a plan, and Senator Plymale (D-Cabell) pushed a bill through the Senate to fund repairs to the roads. We have to get this done, but Speaker Tim Armstead’s House has blocked the revenue measures needed for the project.

Every West Virginian suffers the effects of this inexcusable conduct. We pay high auto repair bills, for one thing. But worse than that, we lose the businesses we need to build the economy. Businesses will not locate in places with inadequate transportation infrastructure. The Republicans are killing West Virginia’s chance to create jobs, by refusing to do theirs. If we want to fix this place up, we have to pay for it, but Republican Eric Nelson’s finance committee, in thrall to the hard right wing started by “taking out the major funding component in the [road] bill.” Ludicrous.

If we will not invest in our own state, why would anyone else? Out-of-state ownership of our land and mineral rights drains the budget. But in the midst of the worst budget crisis in decades, Republicans are offering up big giveaways to coal and gas corporations. These handouts ship money out of state to owners and investors on Wall Street and give nothing to struggling families here in West Virginia.

Corp execs vote highways as most important site selection factor. https://t.co/vPrn9gm4Ah https://t.co/ccE1mBswLQ
— Sean O’Leary (@OLearySW) March 8, 2016

We’re talking about the most elemental possible failure of government here: the radical right will not take care of the people who live here, or do anything to protect their interests. Instead, they are taking what little we’ve got and giving it away to sources of campaign money, and corporations that are flush compared to the average West Virginian. The only word that fairly describes what they are doing is “plunder.”

While the budget crisis played out, the legislature occupied itself with social issues that didn’t require any attention because they were covered by existing laws. Day after day of legislative time went to “guns, God, and gays,” while the roads continued to crumble, and paychecks people need to get by got ignored (except when they were lowered, as by the deplorable repeal of prevailing wage). In other words, when the Republican legislators aren’t doing their job badly, they aren’t doing it at all.

West Virginians weren’t happy with Democratic control of the legislature in 2014, and made that clear with how they voted. But the people could not have anticipated what a disaster Republican rule would be. Radical right wingers said they were “conservative,” but turned out to be destroyers and looters, grabbing all the goodies they could for their corporate backers, in their first two legislative sessions. Like other states that fell into their hands, we are being bankrupted by the right wing.

Last week, they voted down the tobacco tax bill that would have funded PEIA to protect our teachers, police and retirees. They said taxes on tobacco would drive customers away from “border shops selling cigarettes.” So this is what it has come to in West Virginia under Republican rule – we won’t build schools, so people can educate their children here. We won’t fix our roads, so commerce can thrive here.  We won’t allow our construction workers a prevailing wage, so they can support their families. There are plans being drawn to lay off state troopers and close wings of hospitals.

But at least we’ve got cheap smokes. If we don’t end this madness soon, that’s all we’ll have left.