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No, $12k Is Not Enough To Make Me Move Back to West Virginia
Don't take me home, country road.
West Virginia is desperate for people. It is the only state in the country that has seen its population decline over the last 70 years. It's about to lose one of its three congressional seats. And it has a particularly difficult time both keeping and attracting young, educated people.
Now, the state is trying a new way to get new residents: cash.
This week, the state announced a program called Ascend WV , which will give people who agree to move to West Virginia $12,000 cash. It also offers applicants other perks, including a year of passes to public hiking trails, rock climbing, and outdoor space with access to outdoor gear rentals, free access to a co-working space for a year, and continuing ed programs at WVU.
It's a pretty cool program! And West Virginia is an incredibly beautiful place, full of nature, mountains, rivers, great hiking and camping ... and some of the absolute worst politics in the country.
As it just so happens, I am one of the roughly 10,000 people who left West Virginia for brighter pastures last fall! So I can speak with some authority on why at least one person felt the need to GTFO.
West Virginia is a gorgeous state and a lot of people I love still live there. And $12,000 isn't enough to bring me back.
Reasons not to live in the Mountain State were on full display during the state's recent legislative session, which ended at midnight on Sunday. Bringing more people to the state was a hot topic during Republican attempts to eliminate the state income tax at the behest of WV's tax-evading billionaire governor. The GOP claimed that slashing the state budget and abolishing the state income tax would bring thousands and thousands of new people to the state.
Because who doesn't want to live in a state with one of the most regressive tax structures in the country?!
In the end, though, the absurd attempts to eliminate the state income tax ended up being among the least bad things to happen in West Virginia while its lawmakers were in Charleston. When the state legislature is in session, stupidity and bigotry reign supreme.
Lawmakers mocked mask requirements and wore mesh masks that looked like jockstraps. Every member of the legislature was offered the COVID vaccine — and about 30 percent of them were just like, "Nah, I'm good." One of the people who declined the vaccine was Delegate Brandon Steele, who managed to contract COVID twice (TWICE!) during the 60-day legislative session.
And naturally, West Virginia's celebration of willful ignorance does not begin or end with covidiots and mask freedom fighters. The state's lawmakers took care to pass as many bills as possible hurting people who live within WV's borders.
The state that has been hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, and which is already in the midst of one of the worst HIV outbreaks in the country, decided to criminalize needle exchange programs that follow the CDC's best practices for harm reduction. Trans kids have been banned from participating in sports that match their gender identities. The legislature exempted gun and ammo manufacturers from state sales and use taxes, opened up concealed carry permits to out-of-state residents, passed a bill saying the state can't close gun stores or shooting ranges during states of emergency, and banned the state from enforcing federal gun laws.
One of the only high points in this year's hellish legislative session came at the end of last week, when Governor "Big Jim" Justice dared the House to bring his income tax bill up for a vote, saying the delegates were scared. (Justice, like the House, wanted to repeal the income tax, but he wanted to replace that budget hole with some increased sales tax and new taxes on professional services and your gym membership. The House wanted to replace it with sparkle magic.) The House quickly responded by bringing the bill to the floor ... and unanimously rejecting it, with a 100-0 vote that was met to applause.
Sure, the House shut down the bill because it wanted something even crazier , but it was a beautiful act of pettiness nonetheless.
Hilarious rebukes of Jim Justice aside, this entire session was a demonstration of the very reasons people leave. Elected officials regard and treat their constituents with open contempt. The only part of the Bill of Rights they believe in is the Second Amendment. And if you happen to be a woman, not white, not Christian, or a member of the LGBTQ community, well, good luck.
Don't forget that all of the horror of West Virginia's 2021 legislative session is in addition to all of the other ways the state has been trying to go back to the stone age. West Virginia has discrimination against women and people who can get pregnant literally written into the state constitution, no statewide protections for LGBTQ people, some of the laxest gun laws in the country, and a wannabe supervillain attorney general who helped incite the January 6 insurrection.
It is kind of incredible to see the people who are the actual reason no one wants to live in West Virginia pontificate on how to attract more people.
But, no. $12,000 isn't enough to get me to come back.
[ Ascend WV ]
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