The stunt drew lots of laughs and plenty of attention, but in the end it meant little. Last month the legislature again passed a budget balanced with spending cuts instead of the targeted tax increases the governor preferred. Faced with the threat of a government shutdown, Justice threw in the towel, but not without one last bit of symbolism: He would let the bill become law without signing it.
“I can’t possibly put my name on this,” Justice said.
Such is the story of America’s Bottom State for Business in 2017. West Virginia has always been known as a place where people have to work incredibly hard in order to barely get by. But with the decline of the major source of that work — coal mining — the Mountain State has in many ways become an empty symbol.
West Virginia has never done particularly well in our Top States rankings, but this year it hits bottom for the first time. The state scores a mere 942 out of 2,500 points, with the last-place economy, and finishing No. 49 for Workforce, Technology & Innovation and Business Friendliness. The state does well for Cost of Doing Business, tying for the fourth lowest. But that has more to do with stagnation than anything else.
The state is 1 of only 7 whose economies shrank in 2016. The decline in state GDP of 0.9 percent for the year was not the biggest in the nation, but West Virginia did not have much to lose. And according to U.S. Commerce Department statistics, it was almost entirely due to the decline in mining.
While production has ticked up slightly from a year ago, West Virginia produces roughly half the coal it did in 2008, according to a new report from West Virginia University’s Bureau for Business and Economic Research. The report predicts modest increases in production and overall stability over the next three years, followed by steady declines below 80 million tons per year through 2030 and beyond as natural gas continues to supplant coal as the major fuel source for power plants. Production peaked at around 182 million tons in 1997 and for the most part has been declining ever since, according to the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training.