It’s all about jobs and good paying jobs. That’s the best economic indicator that you could have. In the last year, West Virginia has had the eleventh highest wage growth in the nation. Unemployment rate has been tumbling since January 2017 from 6% to 4.6%. We have over 2,700 more mining jobs and over 4,100 new construction jobs.
Both history and contemporary data show that countries prosper more when there are stable and dependable rules, under which people can make investments without having to fear government intervention. Our founders based our system of government upon a free market. Because of their wisdom, our country has evolved into the richest nation the world has ever known. It’s this principle that Delegate Ward follows to help build a strong economy not only in White Hall were he’s mayor but all of Marion County.
Taxes were a big issue in 2017 when Governor Justice wanted to raise them dramatically. Delegate Ward stood with the Republican caucus against higher taxes and it has paid off. Cutting taxes instead of raising them can have a better effect on the State’s tax revenue and the economy.
At the end of the fiscal year in June of 2018, we had a budget surplus of 36 million dollars. On September 4th of 2018, the Governor announced that the General Revenue Fund Collections were 65.8 million dollars above estimates. This is the first time the State has finished in the black, without a budget cut, since 2012. It is also the largest revenue growth since 2011. If the trend continues, we could see a surplus of several hundred million dollars by the end of the current fiscal year.
Because of increased revenue, we also have a larger budget and there were no cuts to higher education for the first time in a long time. As a matter of fact, the Republican controlled legislature gave higher education a big raise to help cover the 5% wage increase for employees.
With the addition of the Trump tax cuts and recent changes in environmental regulations by his administration that were overburdening on the coal industry, West Virginia’s economy is surging. According to the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce: “West Virginia enjoyed the nation’s eighth highest gain in gross domestic product in 2017. Our wages were the eleventh fastest growing in the country during the last 12 months. And tax collections provide the proof. These gains in the economy are leading to real, quantifiable gains in state tax collections and that is proof positive of a growing economy.”
It’s well known that as Mayor of White Hall, Delegate Ward has had a hand also in local economic development. He has a proven track record in helping business to thrive in Marion County. He is both a friend to business and labor having been endorsed by both.
Education is vital to the success of West Virginia. It’s not only helps to increase economic growth of our state but on a personal level it improves the lives of individuals. Educated people live longer and have happier lives. That’s why Delegate Ward is a big supporter of not only public schools but private and homeschooling as well.
Spending cuts to education are causing our state to lose our most valuable asset, our children. Due to the increase cost of becoming educated, it’s becoming harder to receive a good degree. We must stop the bleeding and find a way to make it more affordable to become educated. Higher education shouldn’t be free, but it should be affordable. No one should have to make payments the rest of their lives for going to college.
Within Delegate Ward’s district are two educational institutions of higher learning, which are fortunate to have two great educators leading them. Delegate Ward has been a big supporter of both institutions and has been working closely with President Mirta Martin at Fairmont State University and President Johnny Moore at Pierpont Community and Technical College to resolve any issues and to help their schools to continue to succeed.
Delegate Ward believes in order to have a good education system you must attract the best teachers. Going against his own caucus, Delegate Ward supported the teachers and service personnel before and after they went out on strike in February 2018. He voted for every pay raise and increase in funding to PEIA that was presented on the floor of the House.
The West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency was the topic of heated debate during the last legislative session. PEIA is an insurance program that the State offers its employees. It covers teachers, state employees, higher education employees and their retirees, along with some county and municipal governments employees. The annual budget for PEIA is around $950 million. It covers over 200,000 individuals. With an average inflation rate between 5 and 6 percent for health care, it has been requiring an additional $50 to $60 million a year to break even. With premiums and out-of-pocket expenses going up, and with wages staying the same, this has created a negative effect on the net income of State employees.
The 5% raise given to all State employees along with a freeze in benefits is only a temporary fixed to a much more complicated problem. We need long-term solutions, which is going to take a combination of things. Basically, we need some additional funding along with changes in the administration of the program.
Fortunately, there’s been some good news recently. Finances for PEIA are healthier than we were led to believe during session. There should be no increases in premiums or deductibles for at least two years maybe more. There was a 31-million-dollar surplus at the end of last fiscal year and projections are that there will be a 70-million-dollar surplus for the current fiscal year. In addition to this surplus, PEIA expects to see an additional savings of 20 million dollars a year through a recently signed contract with Medicare Advantage. It still doesn’t fix the problem but with the additional surplus revenue along with the savings, this will allow the PEIA Task Force plenty of time to come up with a long-term solution.
With changes in the overburdening EPA regulations by the Trump administration and legislation passed by the Republican controlled legislature in Charleston, mining is making a comeback. Steam-coal shipments are projected to increase by 58 percent to 58 million metric tons this year. There has been an addition of over 2,700 mining jobs since January 2017.
However, no matter what happens to the coal industry, we need to take advantage of the increase in coal production because it won’t last forever. This gives us a breather so that we can plan for the future and begin preparing for diversification into other industries such as tourism, manufacturing and information technology.
During Delegate Ward’s first term, he has voted for and co-sponsored legislation that both helped increase gas and oil development and at the same time protected mineral and surface owner rights. Natural gas production has increased by 22 percent since January 2017.
During the 2018 legislative session, three major bills were passed to update laws pertaining to oil and gas development, which not only the majority of gas and oil developers supported but also organizations such as the West Virginia Farm Bureau:
- House Bill 4270 provides for minimum information that gas and oil operators must provide to the mineral owners. The bill also requires timely payments of royalties.
- Senate Bill 360 establishes West Virginia as a market product rule state. The bill established future permit standards on old flat-rate leases, prevents deductions and establishes payment value to be established at the point of a third-party arms-length transaction. The law helps prevent companies from selling the gas to themselves at below market value and sets the stage where they will have to pay mineral owners for valuable liquids that, in many situations, comprises 35 percent to 40 percent of total value.
- House Bill 4268, known as the 2018 Co-Tenancy Majority Protection Act, provides for standards of development on a single tract of property. Oil and gas developers must secure development agreements from at least 75 percent of the owners, which is far higher than any other state. The minority 25 percent co-tenants are well-provided for with the option to elect to receive a working interest in the well or the highest royalty and average bonus payment of any of the majority. The legislation applies only when more than seven co-tenants exist and includes surface protection for landowners. The bill also provides a vertical-strata clause for minority owners and dedication of some funding to plug abandoned wells.
We face a crisis in West Virginia like no other. No place in America has been hit harder by the opioid epidemic than West Virginia. Nine hundred and nine people died in 2017 in West Virginia from opioid abuse. Opioid addiction is out of control and there’s no easy fix. With the loss of thousands of coal mining jobs under the Obama administration, stagnant economic growth, and an exodus of young people in search of opportunities elsewhere, the crisis in West Virginia was fundamentally fueled by economic and social upheaval.
But who’s to blame? Is it the pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, the doctors, pain clinics, or even the patients?
Yes, we hear that blame should go to the pharmaceutical companies, but some should good to the insurers as well. Together along with physicians, they have created a nightmare. During the 1990’s insurers began limiting coverage of behavioral pain therapy. Previously, chronic pain was managed largely with cognitive behavioral therapy. The biopharmaceutical manufacturers sensed an opportunity to make a profit and took advantage of the insurers reluctance to cover such treatments. This led to more prescriptions for pain medication by physicians. Physicians in turn complied with what the patients were wanting, and they were seeking quick and simplistic answers to their physical and mental health needs. Thus, a crisis was born.
Let’s quit worrying about who to lay the blame on and just fix the problem. Unfortunately, there is no easy quick inexpensive fix. It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of determination.
However, there are a couple simple changes that could help:
- Reducing the overprescribing of opioids: We would need to properly educate the provider and limit the number of days for initial prescriptions.
- Lower the training requirements and remove the limits to treatments for medication-assisted therapy: We don’t have enough physicians who have the appropriate waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, one of three FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use, and there’s a limit on how many patients these doctors can see.
We also need more treatments centers such as Recovery Point WV, which is where the money comes in. Making criminals out of those who do drugs is not the answer. The answer lies somewhere between empathy and compassion.
Though Delegate Ward is not a veteran himself, he came from a family of veterans. Both his grandfathers were veterans and served in the Army. Four out of five of his uncles served in the military. His maternal grandfather was a veteran of World War I and was on the frontline the day the armistice was signed. He had a step grandfather who was a veteran of World War II and served in the South Pacific with the Navy. His father was in the Navy during the Korean War and his brother was in the Navy during the Vietnam War.
Delegate Ward has and always will be a big supporter of our state’s veterans. He supported HB201, which eliminated the state income tax on military pensions.
Delegate Ward is in a three-member district and there are six candidates on the ballot. He’s the only candidate out of the six who is endorsed by both organizations.
“I grew up in a household with guns,” Delegate Ward remarked about his years growing up. “I never thought anything about it. As a youth, I thought everyone owned a gun and everyone knew how to use one. My father and brother were both hunters. I never hunted too much but my dad taught me how to use a gun and respect it.”
Delegate Ward believes a person has the right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home, and state, and for lawful hunting and recreational use. He agrees with Thomas Jefferson who said, "No free man shall be debarred the use of arms."
Delegate Ward believes a woman has a basic moral right over her own body. All sexual or medical decisions pertaining to her body are hers to make. However, as with any right, it stops when it infringes on another person’s right.
Because Delegate Ward believes life begins at conception, He also believes that an unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed upon.
He’s proud to say that he’s been endorsed by West Virginians for Life, a pro-life organization.