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The Fitch rating is good news for W.Va.

Just in time for the sesquicentennial of statehood, Fitch Ratings affirmed its AA-plus rating of West Virginia's general obligation bonds.  

That is good news. It reflects a 20-year effort to get the state government's financial house in order. The better the credit rating, the less taxpayers have to pay in interest when the state borrows money.

Fitch cited the state's healthy Rainy Day Fund, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 7.5 percent budget cuts in this fiscal year in making its assessment of the state's creditworthiness.

"The state's focused and disciplined efforts to address its accumulated financial challenges have supported generally successful financial operations, notwithstanding revenue weakness in fiscal year 2013 that necessitated expenditure cuts and the use of reserve fund monies to balance operations," Fitch said in its report.

"The governor's broad powers to cut spending aided the state in addressing the revenue shortfalls."

As Senate finance chairman, Senate president and now as governor, Tomblin has been at the forefront of getting the state government to live within its means.

He had plenty of help. Bob Kiss was House finance chairman and later House speaker during much of this time. Govs. Gaston Caperton, Cecil Underwood, Bob Wise and Joe Manchin also rejected the big spending ways of the past.

It took teamwork to fix the state's finances and it takes teamwork to resist the temptation to find new ways to spend the public's money.

Although the state weathered the recession better than many other states, problems remain. The state has above average pension obligations as well as liabilities for Other Post Employment Benefits, mainly health benefits for retirees.

The state's economy also is worrisome. Although West Virginians' per capita income ranking has moved up to 47th in the nation, poverty remains the state's biggest weakness.

"West Virginia's economic base has diversified," Fitch said," though significant exposure to the cyclical natural resources industry remains, particularly the weakened coal industry."

Changing the policies that contribute to poverty would make the biggest difference in the state's fortunes, and there seems to be little interest in doing that.

But make no mistake, the statehouse has to some extent changed its ways.

No longer is it run like California, Illinois and other places, where state government is expanded to fit the imaginations of state officials rather than the means of their citizens.

 


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