W.Va. gubernatorial candidate proposes comprehensive state jobs program

Photo courtesy of WV Can’t Wait

The campaign of West Virginia gubernatorial candidate Stephen Smith spent the first year of its existence — 136 town halls and 550 other community meetings — crowdsourcing a populist platform consisting of more than 30 individual policy plans that “quite literally contain the words and stories of thousands of West Virginians.” One of those plans includes the creation of a Mountaineer Service Corps jobs program that the Smith campaign speculates will create 40,000 living wage jobs across the state and which is modeled after FDR’s Works Progress Administration that employed millions of workers across the U.S. for public works projects.

The plan begins with a diagnosis of the state’s economic problems it is meant to solve: “West Virginia’s economy is in turmoil. Compared to a generation ago, we have fewer jobs. Good jobs are harder to get and harder to keep. And our wages are stagnating while inequality grows. While our working people are more productive than ever, we end up with a smaller and smaller slice of the pie.”

The plan sates that many of West Virginia’s economic issues are highlighted by the state’s drastic population decline — W.V. is losing an average of nearly 16,000 residents annually — and “the struggle to stay” for those who are capable of leaving. Such issues include underemployment, declining property values, declining student enrollment, lack of effective and adequate infrastructure and the corrupting influence of big-money donors on state politicians.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” the plan states. “We can and will create a thriving economy together, literally building it from the ground up: The solution is a public works jobs program funded by the same industries that have busted our communities, and profited from our pain (…) We will create an economy where West Virginians have the opportunity to thrive right here in West Virginia — if we fight for it.”

Through the Mountaineer Service Corps jobs program and other related measures, the Smith campaign aims to create 3,900 new unionized public jobs with benefits through state and local governments and non-profit organizations. The jobs include positions such as park maintenance workers, community center workers, foresters, public art creators, recovery coaches, drivers for those in need, child care workers and countless others. The positions also will be open for ex-offender re-entry workers, a constituency for which the Smith campaign aims to reserve at least 600 new jobs. The campaign’s Recovery Can’t Wait plan has already been unveiled online.

The plan is meant to be a “powerful tool to encourage, support, strengthen and expand the work already being done by citizens in low-income communities, local government, congregations and charity organizations.”

Some 15,000 jobs will be created by empowering local small businesses through a state bank called the Public Bank of West Virginia. The bank aims to capitalize 3,000 small businesses each year through the campaign’s Small Business Revolution plan.

The Smith campaign also plans to fund 7,000 skilled jobs related to water and sewer infrastructure projects and 7,000 more through the installation of solar panels and various other energy efficiency measures on 1,000 public buildings. Details for such plans will be released by the campaign moving forward when its Safe Water for All and Protect Our Land plans are unveiled.

1,000 additional jobs will be created for residents with disabilities and 1,000 more for displaced miners. The campaign already has released its Freedom for People with Disabilities and Miners Bill of Rights plans.

The Mountaineer Service Corps will be accompanied by a Summer Youth Mountaineer Corps aimed at creating 1,000 summer jobs for the state’s youth paying $3,500 each. The summer jobs include positions such as staffing for seasonal feeding programs. The Smith campaign relates the Youth Mountaineer Corps to FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps which was responsible for the creation of countless U.S. state parks and “worked on reforestation and conservation projects, fought forest fires, built shelters, fire towers, fire stations, roads and trails, strung electric and telephone lines and planted thousands of trees.”

The Smith campaign states that it will pay for the state’s new jobs program by “keeping our wealth here and investing in our communities.” It plans to raise the state’s natural gas and oil severance tax to 10%, raise the natural gas liquids tax to 15% and implement protections ensuring that out-of-state-corporations actually pay their fair share of taxes.

The campaign estimates the total costs of the plan would add up to about $140 million while revenues from gas taxes would total more than $250 million.

A prospective Smith administration also would seek partners for the Mountaineer Service Corps jobs program and employ a grant writing committee with aims of expanding the program and securing tens of millions of dollars in additional funding.

Douglas Harding can be contacted at harding26@marshall.edu.

West Virginia Can’t Wait’s full Mountaineer Service Corps jobs program plan can be found online here.

from W.V. Contributing news editor for MU’s The Parthenon, formerly @ Herald-Dispatch. “The truth is weirder than any fiction I’ve seen,” -Hunter S. Thompson

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