May 29, 2015

Manchin talks workforce, infrastructure concerns | Charleston Gazette

West Virginia needs to address its workforce issues, and Washington needs to address infrastructure and debt concerns, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Thursday.

Delivering the keynote at the annual Who’s Who in West Virginia business luncheon, Manchin said these are challenging times.

“We’re probably more challenged now than we’ve ever have been challenged,” the senator told the crowd at Embassy Suites.

West Virginia has been pretty resilient but it needs to find ways to diversify the economy, Manchin said. “We’ve got to find our niche as a state,” Manchin said. “We have a lot of opportunity and we have a lot of assets to sell — and you sell on your strengths all the time.”

Manchin expressed concerns about the state’s workforce.

Something is wrong when the country’s workforce participation rate is 63.8 percent and the Mountain State’s rate is 49.6, Manchin said. West Virginia has ranked last in workforce participation among the states every year since the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking it in 1976.

Still, Manchin said, “I’ve never seen more help wanted signs around the state of West Virginia than I see right now.”

He’s also troubled that the state’s unemployment rate is higher than most any other state right now.

April’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7 percent, and the nation’s was 5.4 percent, according to WorkForce West Virginia.

What’s the problem, Manchin asked. Is it education? Is it addiction? Is it a combination of both? How do we get the workforce businesses need?

“Drug addiction in America does not have a partisan home,” Manchin said. “It’s not the Republicans’ fault, the Democrats’ fault — it’s all of our faults.”

Manchin wants to see the nation’s drug addiction problem talked about more on a national stage.

“Drug addiction is destroying this country as we know it,” Manchin said.

Manchin discussed ways Washington is looking to generate funds to help update the nation’s infrastructure, such as raising the gas tax and a national sales tax.

The federal gas tax has not been raised since the Clinton administration. The tax — currently 18.4 cents per gallon — goes toward maintaining the nation’s roads, highways and infrastructure.

“Our infrastructure is falling down,” Manchin said, “whether it’s roads and bridges or railways systems, and also our communications.”

There’s also talk of a national sales tax to raise revenue for infrastructure-only project, Manchin said.

“It’s hard to get people to vote for any type of an increase,” Manchin said. “We are going to have to do something, so we’re exploring that.”

He reiterated that there needs to more confidence and certainty in the market, regulatory reforms and government reforms for more economic growth.

“The uncertainty is keeping you on the bench,” Manchin said.

He’s still concerned about the nation’s debt — now down to $18 trillion — but said more needs to be done to reduce debt further.

The debt is self-inflicted and both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for it, he said.

People still have faith in this system of ours — people still believe in democracy and capitalism — it’s who we are as Americans, Manchin said.

“Better days are laying ahead,” he said.

By:  Caitlin Cook