EDITORIAL: The 525,600 minutes of 2022

By Matthew Young, RealWV

It’s been nearly three decades since Jonathan Larson asked us one very simple question: “How do you measure a year?”

The 525,600 minutes between January 1 and December 31 held a lot of daylights, sunsets, midnights, and cups of coffee. In 2022, we certainly had our share of laughter in the Mountain State; and it’s no secret that we’ve had our share of strife. So with that year now behind us and 2023 ahead, there’s no better time to look back on a year in the life of West Virginia.

UNEMPLOYMENT

Somewhere around the 170,000 minute mark, West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to just 3.5%. Granted, “seasonally adjusted” means that statistical algorithms were used to predict employment fluctuations from month to month, so there’s a bit of an asterisk there. Without the seasonal adjustment, that number inches closer to 4.0%. But that’s still miles better than the nearly 8.0% the state reached in 2020. Asterisk or not, 3.5% is still the lowest unemployment number ever recorded in West Virginia. 

However, our spectacular unemployment rate raised an interesting question: “If everyone was working, why were we all broke?” 

Well there’s a pretty simple answer to that; inflation – particularly with regard to skyrocketing fuel prices and an international supply chain crisis – and zero tax-relief. We can debate all day over the merits of Joe Biden’s presidency, or the impact of the war in Ukraine. But despite those things, West Virginia is sitting on a $1.9 billion revenue surplus. We’ve been listening to our politicians brag about that, and watching them pat themselves on the back over their frugal leadership. Unfortunately the buck, all 1.9 billion of them, stopped with them. 

We need our leaders to stay true to their conservative ideologies when tackling over-bloated governmental-bureaucracies, but embrace a bit of liberalism when it comes to giving us back our portion of the $1.9 billion that they’re sitting on. Our elected politicians claim to agree on the need for tax relief, but so far it has been nothing more than talk. It’s time for our leaders to put our money where their mouth is. If not, 2023 may come to be remembered as the year we say: “Thanks for all the new jobs. I’ve got three of them and I can’t pay my mortgage.” 

DEFEAT OF AMENDMENT 2

This went down in flames at 447,840 minutes. In case you forgot, this was the amendment lawmakers proposed which would have allowed them to eliminate certain personal property taxes. And before you accuse hypocrisy after the previous point of unemployment, let’s look at this amendment for what it really was – a terrible idea. 

This amendment was designed to attract business to West Virginia – nothing more, nothing less. Now on the surface, that’s a great idea. More businesses means more jobs and more revenue. The problem was with the taxes the legislature wanted to eliminate in order to incentivize those businesses. Granted, those taxes pay for frivolous things like schools, police departments, firefighters and EMS, and other vital services; but the legislature had no plan to replace those funds. 

The only thing more terrible than the idea itself was the way politicians tried to sell it to their constituents. They told us: “We’re going to get rid of your car tax, that’s all you need to worry about. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Turns out us West Virginians are smarter than our elected officials give us credit for. Try a little harder guys – that’s what we pay you for. 

BAN ON ABORTION

Talk about the perfect encapsulation of “525,600 journeys to plan.” It’s really difficult to know where to start with this one because there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said. And since there’s no point in rehashing an ideological argument to which there is no middle ground, let’s just examine where this particular piece of inadequate legislation has left us.

There are nearly 7,000 children currently within the custody of West Virginia’s foster care system. That number fluctuates slightly year-over-year, but generally stays fairly static. Approximately 1,500 abortions have been performed in West Virginia each year since 2014. That number has also remained consistent. I think you see where this is headed. Conventional wisdom would seem to indicate that West Virginia can expect upwards of 10,000 children consigned to foster care by 2025. 

But not to worry, the DHHR is on the case. And by offering prospective foster parents the ability to browse available children on their website – much like the way that animal shelters advertise stray dogs – they seem to have this situation well under control.

That brings us to our next topic…

DHHR

If ever there was a horror story of bureaucratic-bloat, it is West Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources. 

2022 was an incredibly tumultuous year for Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch’s DHHR. Public criticism, legislative scrutiny, one federal investigation and a partridge in a pear tree all led to Crouch “retiring” right around the 500,000 minute mark. 

Now we have WVU’s Dr. Jeff Coben as interim DHHR secretary. The fact that Coben, who also serves as Dean, and Associate Vice-president for Health Affairs at the university’s School of Public Health, has his work cut out for him cannot be overstated. Hopefully, 2023 will show us that Coben is up to the task. 

GREENBRIER COUNTY WATER PROJECT

Gov. Jim Justice, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Sen Joe Manchin, and City of Lewisburg Mayor Beverly White addressing the media on Aug. 31 near the water plant in Caldwell. Photo by Matthew Young.

On the afternoon of August 31, or 348,420 minutes if you’re keeping track, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Sen. Joe Manchin, and Gov. Jim Justice stood in the grass outside the water plant in Caldwell and told residents that the City of Lewisburg would be receiving nearly $53 million to upgrade the over-worked and outdated facility. 

The $53 million is part of a $75 million investment made by the federal Department of Agriculture; the largest of its kind ever in West Virginia. The project includes the installation of a raw-water intake structure, two new water storage tanks, and replacing approximately six-miles of water-distribution lines. The balance of the $75 million will go towards improving waste-water collection and treatment systems. 

There really isn’t any sarcasm here – this is a good thing. It’s 2023 now, and we’re out of excuses for not being able to provide Americans with clean water. 

Obviously a lot of other things also happened in 2022, and they weren’t all bad. Communities In Schools expanded into its thirty-sixth county, GameChanger is revolutionizing the way we combat substance abuse in West Virginia, teen courts across the state are giving young people a second chance at a fresh start, and Healing Appalachia brought thousands of residents together in-person for the first time in three years. 

So when 2023 comes to an end – when old acquaintances are forgotten and never brought to mind – will we drink a cup of kindness, yet, for the sake of auld lang syne?

If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll measure the next 525,600 minutes of our lives the way Jonathan Larson taught us…

Maybe we’ll measure 2023 in love. 

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