Minimum Wage Vote Shows West Virginia is Not 'Open for Business'

Last week anti-abortion supporters were given a choice: keep supporting Democrats who claim to be “pro-life” or return to their Republican roots. Will business face a similar choice?

For decades businesses and their advocacy organizations have been in an abusive relationship with the state Democratic Party. What other choice have they had? For more than 80 years the Democrats ran this state, only with an occasional Republican governor thrown in to shake things up.

While business tends to be supportive of Republican ideals in West Virginia, they’ve had to publicly toe the Democratic line in order to get things they need. Instead of creating a business climate that can succeed, it has created a crony capitalism. Some businesses flourish and others go bankrupt all based on who you know at the statehouse. Outside companies get sweetheart tax deals to set up shop in the state, while some of West Virginia’s established businesses whither on the vine.

Major business organizations, such as the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the state Manufacturers Association, and the West Virginia Coal Association have all tried to play both sides. Some of these leaders have openly endorsed and campaigned for Democrats.

According to the data compiled by the National Institute for Money in State Politics, the W.Va. Chamber gave $174,345 in donations to state Democrats between 2000 and 2012. That’s 54 percent of their donations during that time period, but to what end?

For example, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin just signed a bill raising the minimum wage, which will not only hurt small businesses, but also changes how businesses handle overtime. The law raises the minimum wage from it’s current $7.25 an hour to $8.75 an hour by 2016. It will only have a short-term impact on the state economy and doesn’t help lift one person out of poverty. It also doesn’t address West Virginia’s real problem: a shortage of workers with middle-skills training.

But it gets worse. The new law strips away overtime exemptions put in place by the feds. Brian Peterson, an attorney who focuses on labor issues, wrote in the West Virginia Record that the minimum wage law had the “inadvertent effect of also making the state’s outdated overtime rules applicable to nearly every employer in the state.”

It was a flawed bill, which Tomblin felt fine with signing, gambling on a May special session to fix the law’s problems. Some Democrats, however, took joy in giving West Virginia’s workers a raise, and Delegate Stephen Skinner (D-Jefferson) said on Twitter “the effects were intentional.” Good to know.

While Tomblin signed this defective bill, the 20-week abortion ban, which he vetoed because of constitutional problems, is apparently not being put on the special session agenda. That should add to the anger West Virginians for Life already has towards Democrats.

What about West Virginia’s main industry? Between 2004 and 2012 the West Virginia Coal Association gave 60 percent of their political donations to Democrats. Again, to what end? The Obama administration has waged a war on coal. The decrease in coal exports has put a damper on the state’s general revenue budget.

And West Virginia’s Democratic congressional delegation are powerless to reverse Obama’s course. The family of West Virginia’s senior Democrat, Senator Jay Rockefeller, has funneled money through leftist organizations for years in an effort to shit down coal-powered electrical plants. Political donations from the coal industry to Democrats might as well be money flushed down the drain.

The only solution is for these business organizations to endorse the agenda the state Republican Party has: lower taxes, reasonable regulations, and fair treatment of all businesses, not just those who give the most. It’s time for business to wake up and realize Democrats only want them to do well enough to keep giving to their campaigns.

Keeping the industry’s head above water just enough to not drown, but preventing them from swimming, is not getting the job done. It’s staying the course. It’s time to make it right.