Last week's Cafe Society discussion of the U.S. economy planned for Mar. 14 was cancelled due to the late winter snow storm. So basically the same topic will be discussed next Tuesday, Mar. 21 however it will be modified to take advantage of the participation of Stephen Skinner.
The focus will shift to state and local aspects of the economy and relevant actions under consideration by the West Virginia Legislature which is now in session. Mr. Skinner, who until recently represented our region in Charleston, was particularly active and effective in addressing economic concerns and implications of decisions at the State level for Jefferson County residents. Last year, and again this year our State government is having difficulty finding ways to increase revenue to avoid even more drastic cuts in important programs that affect our quality of life.
These informal discussions are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each Tuesday in the Rumsey Room of the Shepherd University (SU) Student Center. They are an integral part of the SU Life Long Learning Program and are intended to facilitate a dialog on current issues between the students and older members of our community. There are no fees or registration requirements.
Facilitator, Mike Austin commented, "Our national, state, and local economies are inextricably joined at the hip and many of the decisions that the Trump Administration and the Congress must make in the coming months will severely impact West Virginia. The intense debate now underway in Washington on replacing or significantly modifying the Affordable Care Act and possibly reducing Medicaid will undoubtedly complicate our state budget drafting efforts. Health Care and social safety net programs while dominant are not the only critical areas where major changes may be in the offing. During the election campaigns our State's heavy dependence on the coal industry was prominently discussed and perhaps misleading promises were made. Despite the impressive gains seen on Wall Street in recent weeks, the commodity-related sectors continue to lag. We are working with a legacy of unresolved issues. Two of the most important are the impaired health and limited skills of many in our work force. This is an important constraint that our national economy faces, but it is exponentially greater here in West Virginia.
"Our state and local political leaders are caught in an unrelenting dilemma in that to achieve a balanced budget (mandated by State laws) many programs will have to be drastically reduced or eliminated. At the same time taxes, fees, and other means of creating revenue will have to be increased. Both general efforts make our state less attractive to potential visitors or investors. Many states, particularly those nearby in Appalachia are facing the same pressures. Our state's ability to draw an influx of people and money, even for recreational purposes, is hampered by transportation infrastructure limitations. It is unlikely that West Virginia will benefit substantially from the anticipated Administration infrastructure initiative which will of necessity be a long-term effort with few immediate benefits."
Austin concluded with, "In the coming months, the silver lining in the very dark economic cloud may be increased recognition of the important role that the Eastern Panhandle plays in the State's economy and a stronger voice in our State's government.
"Once a matter of geography, it is increasingly becoming a matter of the concentration of highly skilled and employable people who live and find work in our three counties. Promised increases in federal funding for defense and homeland security bode well for us as well as do efforts to enhance communications infrastructure. And of course the quality of life brings in a healthy share of retirees who are good for the economy. Urgent care facilities are going up like gas stations used to in earlier years and the medical systems, of which we have our share, are thriving. So we have a lot to talk about."