Greenbrier House Candidate Ray Canterbury discusses the state’s finances, the importance of experienced leadership

By Matthew Young, RealWV

The largest concern facing West Virginia, as Republican Ray Canterbury sees it, is the potential impact the nation’s economic outlook could have on the State. 

“I’m rather concerned that when the dominoes start to fall nationally, we’re going to be in a position where we’re going to be having to navigate some very hazardous waters as those dominoes fall around us,” Canterbury said, while speaking with RealWV about his campaign for the District 47 seat in the House of Delegates.

Canterbury, who previously served in the West Virginia House from 2001 until 2012, is one of three Republicans and two Democrats vying to succeed Del. Todd Longanacre. Longanacre announced late last year that he will not be seeking a third term. 

“Based on my time in the legislature and my familiarity with some of these issues, I decided that this is a time when somebody with my particular background might be useful,” Canterbury said. “The State of West Virginia has a fairly high debt-to-GDP ratio, if you factor in all of our unfunded liabilities. We have an aging population with growth that’s not spectacular because we have some internal weaknesses.”

“When things start to fall apart, I think they can get rather dicey here,” Canterbury added. “It’s going to take some steady hands to try to navigate through it.”

Canterbury earned a Bachelor’s degree in 1991 from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree in 1996 from West Virginia University. If elected, Canterbury says effective management of the State’s ever-changing finances will be his top priority.

“The first thing you absolutely need to do is get an itemized list of every single bond and debt the state holds,” Canterbury said. “I really want to get a complete rundown on the fiscal condition of the state from top to bottom. It’s going to require some cooperation with the treasurer’s office, and some other places, to get that data.”

“What I’d like to see the state do is exercise some fiscal restraint,” Canterbury added. “When you’re paying down public debt it’s the same as paying down private debt. You need to find some places where you can save some money that can start applying toward that debt.”

According to Canterbury, the state’s adoption of a “pay as you go” model for public infrastructure projects, and getting ahead of unfunded liabilities such as state pensions, would allow for more efficient financial management. 

“When the bond rating agencies evaluate our public debt, they don’t take our number for the pension out of the unfunded liability,” Canterbury explained. “We may say that we’re upside down $4.5 billion in unfunded liabilities and pensions, but we’re discounting at 7.25%. They’ll go back and adjust that to 5.5% – what they think is a more realistic rate of return, and that of course inflates the number.”

“Those unfunded liabilities in things like pensions – and there’s another unfunded liability in the old workman’s comp system that’s still active – those liabilities you need to get ahead of,” Canterbury continued. “Those are definitely something to tackle. If you want to reduce debt, that’s where I think you focus your attention.”

One particular expense Canterbury believes West Virginia must re-evaluate is the way in which the state finances higher education. 

“We have a lot of small colleges, a couple of major universities, and a declining student population,” Canterbury said. “That’s a rough one, and that’s something that probably requires some serious consideration.”

“So that (higher education) in particular, but probably some other things in the State of West Virginia that we designed to serve our needs 30, 40, or 50-years-ago, they’re still there as legacy institutions,” Canterbury added. “The question is, do we need to really revamp those?”

Although Canterbury has more than a decade’s worth of House experience under his belt, West Virginia’s political landscape is vastly different than it was during his time in office. And while Canterbury did serve for a time alongside the state’s first Republican House Speaker in Tim Armstead, much of his service in the House was performed under a Democratic supermajority.

“I understand that of the people who are there (in the legislature) now, a fairly small fraction of those were actually there when we (Republicans) were in the minority,” Canterbury said. “So you have a lot of people who have maybe a little bit more limited knowledge about how the process works. It might make managing the group a little difficult. It might help to have a few more people sitting around there who remember what it was like back in the day and have a little more experience.”

“When you have a supermajority like that – I saw it happen with the Democrats in the supermajority – there’s all kinds of opportunities for internal factions to develop,” Canterbury continued. “That creates lots of friction, and then you’ll end up with different sub-groups that want to seize power – it’s just how it works. Then it’s fighting within your own caucus, sometimes only because you have slightly different interpretations of what it means to be in whatever party you’re in. Then it becomes a personality conflict, as well.”

“There’s a lot of opportunity for things to go awry when you have a supermajority,” Canterbury added. “But I think you can mitigate that from the standpoint of the majority if you have a few people there that know a little bit more about the process.”

Both the Democratic and Republican nominee for the District 47 representative in the House of Delegates will be selected by primary election. Primary Election Day in West Virginia is Tuesday, May 14. General Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

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