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Jared Hunt column: W.Va. sees mix of good, bad, ugly

From a news perspective, West Virginia has had a case of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" over the last week.

The Good:

* A new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed the state's economy is one of the healthiest in the country.

Each month the Philly Fed releases its "State Coincident Indexes" tracking economic growth among the states.

The indexes use four monthly statistics -- non-farm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the state unemployment rate and inflation-adjusted wages -- to measure state economic growth.

West Virginia landed on the good end of the rankings, posting top-10 growth rates over the last three months and last year.

The state index grew at a 1.1 percent clip over the last three months, the eighth-fastest rate for the time period. For the last year, the state index increased 3.5 percent, landing the state in 10th place for growth over the year.

The Fed branch also publishes a monthly chart showing which states grew faster, and which did not. That chart was picked up by online publication Business Insider and was spread around by some state lawmakers earlier this week, saying it was evidence the state was on the right track.

"Not so fast, my friends," as Lee Corso would say.

The Bad:

* While the state is posting better-than-average growth, its finances aren't reflecting that. The state's general revenue fund fell short once again in November, raising the fiscal year-to-date shortfall to $57 million.

Revenue officials were quick to point out the calendar did them no favors this month, as the last business day of the month fell on the Friday after Thanksgiving -- the "Lincoln's Day" paid holiday for state employees.

That meant business owners who waited until "Lincoln's Day" -- a normal business day for them -- to pay month-end taxes didn't see that revenue posted to state coffers until the first week of December.

However, the general revenue fund isn't the only fund officials should worry about.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Agency has now put the Excess Lottery Fund -- used to pay off a host of agency bonds -- on the radar by downgrading the outlook for the School Building Authority's bonds from "stable" to "negative."

The agency said declining racetrack video lottery revenues present a one-in-three chance they will have to downgrade the AAA-rated bonds in the next two years.

The action could be a signal to the other agencies that use excess lottery revenues for their bonds. Agencies will now either have to be more cautious in issuing new bonds, or absorb higher borrowing costs should a ratings downgrade occur.

As for "The Ugly" -- that goes to the West Virginia University football team, which once again clutched defeat from the jaws of victory over the weekend. 

Remember, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company, which represents nearly 200 schools in the $4.6 billion college merchandise industry, WVU was the 17th best-selling brand last year among the schools they represent -- ahead of Auburn, Penn State, Missouri, Florida State and Kansas. It will be interesting to see when CLC releases updated rankings again next summer whether WVU's struggles on the field translated into struggles for its brand.


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