By Jean A. Flanagan
“I think we are starting to see some of the results from the policy changes of the past few years,” State Senator Randy Smith (R-14) said. “We’re becoming more business friendly. It was reported recently we had the second highest GDP growth in the country.”
Smith sat down with the Examiner to discuss the 2017 legislative session and the impact it will have on Hardy County citizens.
GDP or Gross Domestic Product is the market value of goods and services produced in the state. According to the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis, West Virginia was second only to Texas in GDP growth for the second quarter of 2017. An increase in mining was the biggest contributor to the growth in both states.
Smith said the budget, the broadband bill and the roads bill will impact Hardy County citizens the most. He has been a staunch advocate for broadband expansion in West Virginia.
“The broadband bill will help Hardy Telecommunications and other small companies expand if they want to,” he said. “This bill is not a complete fix, but it’s a start.”
[private] Smith said he gives a lot of credit to Speaker of the House Mitch Carmichael, who lost his job as a result of the bills’ passage.
Carmichael worked for Frontier Communications, who has monopolized telephone and Internet service throughout much of the state.
Frontier Communications has since sued to have one section of the bill changed. The section allows other companies to use existing utility poles. Frontier says allowing other companies to utilize their poles will impede service to their customers and cause outages.
“Most of the poles are owned by the electric company,” Smith said. “Frontier owns only a small percentage, but they are interspersed with the electric company’s.”
While there are no roads in Hardy County on the Governor’s list of priorities for the Road Bond, Smith said Corridor H is on everyone’s mind. “The Kerens to Parsons section is next,” Smith said.
“I’m told Corridor H will be finished if the bond passes. If we finish it, it will urge Virginia to start construction on their end. It would benefit them in a lot of ways. It would take some of the traffic off I-81.
“There has been a huge increase in tourism at Blackwater Falls, Davis and Thomas since Corridor H was finished to there.
“We will have a more detailed list in September.”
Smith was very proud of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget passed by both houses of the Legislature.
“There are no tax increases,” he said. “There are no cuts to K-12 education, no cuts to Medicaid, no cuts in Veterans Affairs and we didn’t take any money from the Rainy Day Fund.”
The $4.225 billion budget is approximately $85 million less than the FY2017 budget.
“We had a 2.6 percent cut in higher education,” Smith said. “West Virginia University lost $7 million in state funding. Their budget is $1.3 billion.
“They lost $7 million and said they needed to raise tuition to make up for it. They made up for it alright. They will raise $30 million from the tuition increase.”
Smith said the increase in Department of Motor Vehicles fees was long overdue. “There hasn’t been an increase since 1974,” he said.
In addition to increases in registration fees from $28.50 to $50 annually, the legislation requires an addition annual registration fee of $200 for vehicles fueled by hydrogen or natural gas, and additional fee of $200 for purely electric vehicles and an additional $100 for hybrid vehicles. “The state will raise $10 million a month because of the increases,” Smith said.
While he voted in favor of medical marijuana, Smith said he is not in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana.
“It would just create a whole new set of problems,” he said. “Gambling was supposed to be our saving grace and it just created a whole new set of problems.”
Smith said the economic issues in West Virginia now are companies can’t get enough workers.
“It’s the drug problem and the entitlement programs,” he said. “Why would someone want to work if they can make more money just sitting at home. They’ve become used to collecting the check.”
Smith said he doesn’t have a solution for the drug problem.
“You can try to shut off the supply, but people are always going to bring it from somewhere else,” he said.
“You have to improve education. If you are educated, you are less likely to get involved in drugs.
Broadband plays a big part in education and economic development. Even home-based businesses need broadband to function. Broadband is a huge tool for education and economic development. It’s essential in this day and age.”
So, we ended where we began – with broadband.
Smith said he is always ready and willing to talk with his constituents and help with problems they might have. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at his home in Davis, 304-698-1621.