It’s all about jobs and good paying jobs. That’s the best economic indicator that you could have. In 2018, West Virginia had the eleventh highest wage growth in the nation. Until the coronavirus pandemic, unemployment rate had been declining since Donald Trump became President in January 2017. It went from a high of 6.4% in February 2016, down to 4.9% two years later.
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 followed to help build a strong economy, not only in White Hall where he was mayor for six years, but for all of West Virginia.
Taxes were a big issue in 2017 when then Democrat Governor Justice along with the Democrat Party wanted to raise them dramatically. Delegate Ward stood with the Republican caucus against higher taxes and it 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 had finished in the black, without a budget cut, since 2012. It is also the largest revenue growth since 2011.
Because of increased revenue, we also have had larger budgets in recent years and there were no cuts to higher education for the first time in a long time in 2018. As a matter of fact, Delegate Ward and the Republican controlled legislature gave higher education a big raise that year to help cover the 5% wage increase for employees.
With the addition of the Trump tax cuts in 2017 and 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 in 2018: “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 worked closely with President Mirta Martin at Fairmont State University and President Johnny Moore at Pierpont Community and Technical College to help resolve issues and 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 2018 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. At the time, the annual budget for PEIA was around $950 million. It covered over 200,000 individuals. With an average inflation rate between 5 and 6 percent for health care, it had 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 had created a negative effect on the net income of State employees.
The 5% raise given to all State employees in 2018 along with a freeze in benefits was only a temporary fix to a much more complicated problem. We needed a long-term solution, which was going to take a combination of things. Basically, we needed some additional funding along with changes in the administration of the program.
Fortunately, there was some good news toward the end of 2018. Finances for PEIA were healthier than what we were led to believe during the 2018 session, which led to a good year for fiscal period 2018-19. There was a 31-million-dollar surplus at the end of fiscal year 2017-18 and PEIA also had the benefit of a $105 million reserve fund allocation from the legislature. In addition to this surplus and reserve fund, PEIA expects to see an additional savings of 20 million dollars a year through a contract with Medicare Advantage.
Also, with the passing of HB3139 in 2019, the PEIA Rainy Day Fund was created by adding a new section of code, §11B-2-15a. This hopefully will help alleviate any future shortfalls, but we can’t take our attention away from the needs of our public employees. As long as the cost of healthcare continues to rise, we need to be vigilant and this is one issue that needs to be at the forefront of every legislative session.
With changes in the overburdening EPA regulations by the Trump administration and legislation passed by the legislature in Charleston after Republicans took control in 2014, mining is making a comeback. West Virginia coal production year-to-date is up 20 percent over the same period last year, and we appear on target to possibly cross the 100-million-ton level for the full year.
Our mines are once again producing, we are beginning to rehire miners after eight long, hard years of fighting to just stay in business. Even so, we remain a long way from the 170 million tons we produced in 2008, before the Obama Administration and Democrats began their war on coal. Four hundred coal-fired power generation units were shut down with this regulatory assault and have been torn down, left to rust, or converted to natural gas.
The good news is the world never stopped recognizing the value of coal, and 2,200 new coal-fired power plants across the globe are scheduled to go online between now and 2040. Many of those plants will look to import their supplies and West Virginia is in a good position to be the main source of much of that coal. West Virginia is uniquely located close to rail and barge transportation to major coal port facilities. Also, our metallurgical coal remains plentiful and second to none in quality.
However, no matter what happens to the coal industry, we need to take advantage of any increase in coal production because it won’t last forever. This could give 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.
In 2018, West Virginia's 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas production was the seventh-largest amount of marketed natural gas in the nation. During Delegate Ward’s first term, he 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.
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 go to the insurers as well. Together 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.
In 2018, we passed legislation aimed at reducing the number of opioid prescriptions physicians could write, but that’s not enough. We need more treatments centers such as Recovery Point WV. Also, 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.
“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.