CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and revenue officials touted an improving state economy, citing critical April revenue coming in ahead of estimates and a bond rating agency’s rating, which changed the state’s outlook from negative to stable.
Justice announced April’s numbers with Chief of Staff Mike Hall, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy and Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow at a Friday news conference in Charleston.
Numbers for April came in nearly $24 million ahead of estimates. The two biggest factors are gains in wage and salary withholdings and personal income tax, which Justice said are indicators of a stronger economy. As in previous months, Hardy also touted that collections were nearly 99.9 percent of the year-to-date estimate.
“Last June, I’ll be honest that the governor raised our eyebrows when he raised revenue estimates by $129 million,” Hardy said. “By October, we had been 99 to 100 percent of revenue projections. That’s been consistent. Now, we are 99.99 percent. We are on target to finish on June 30 at $4.225 billion, which is the largest revenue ever in the state of West Virginia.”
Justice also cited an early morning announcement by Fitch Ratings, which assigned West Virginia a AA bond rating for the upcoming $800 million in general obligation bond sales for the bigger projects in the Roads to Prosperity program. Hardy also said that a Moody’s analyst said the governor and rating agency are on the same page.
Justice and Muchow also cited WorkForce West Virginia numbers, which found that the state added 6,900 new jobs. Muchow said about half were attributed to gains in construction. Muchow mentioned other areas of growth including mining, professional services and tourism as part of the jobs added.
“We are showing an acceleration of economic activity,” Muchow said. “The latest report on employment numbers are good — 6,900 new jobs in the private sector, half in construction and half are in other areas. That’s a good indicator.”
Muchow also said labor force participation has experienced an uptick. West Virginia has historically been last in the nation in labor force participation, which measures the amount of people looking for work.
“West Virginia has consistently been last in the country,” Muchow said. “Rural areas have a lower participation than urban but the positive is this uptick. We are moving in the right direction.”
Before going into the numbers, Justice criticized the media and a question from an outlet over a photo chosen as one of the winners in the Almost Heaven ad campaign. The photo depicted several bears and Justice said there was an allegation that it depicted an illegal bait. Justice denied that claim. His staff brought out a sign that said “Corn for deer only.”
“It was taken by a trail camera and you’re allowed to put corn out if you’re bow hunting,” he said. “But you’re not allowed to put corn out and bring bears out and turkeys in.”
Justice later criticized the media for not treating the news as a celebration by instead focusing on the bear photo. He also later chided members of the media for not asking happier questions.
“These are great numbers,” Justice said. “We ought to be jumping up and down.”
Highlights of April’s numbers include:
• Collections were $535.3 million, which was $23.7 million above estimates. Collections are 99.9 percent of year-to-date estimates and $146 million higher than last year.
• Personal income tax collections exceeded estimates by more than $13 million because of a 10.4 percent gain in withholding tax collections. Collections were 6.5 percent ahead of last year.
• Corporate net income tax exceeded April estimates by $4.6 million. Year-to-date collections were $1.8 million above estimates and 0.4 percent ahead of last year.
• Severance tax collections exceeded estimates by more than $5 million in April. Year-to-date collections were 21.8 percent ahead of last year.
• Consumer sales tax was $3 million below estimates. Collections were 3.6 percent ahead of last year.
• State Road Fund collections were $22.4 million above estimate and 19.2 percent ahead of last year.
Story from The Register-Herald