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Editorial: Job impact assessment could improve legislation

Feb. 22, 2013 @ 07:02 AM

Lawmakers often debate the economic impact of new legislation they are considering, but do they really have enough information to make a good judgment?

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and several leaders in the state legislature don’t think so, and they hope to remedy that problem by requiring a “job impact statement” for legislation if requested by the governor, House speaker or Senate president.

Under the governor’s proposal, the evaluation would be done by the state Development Office, and the report would include a forecast of the short-term and long-term effect of the legislation on jobs, along with an estimate of jobs created or lost and how that would affect employment patterns around the state.

The state already does an evaluation of how new legislation would affect state coffers, with what are called “fiscal notes.” So, this would give legislators, private sector businesses and the public a better idea of how new legislation might affect the state economy.

Already, one point of contention is environmental legislation. The impact of environmental rules and regulations on jobs has been hotly debated year after year, and some environmentalists already view these proposals as just a veiled attempt to weaken or prevent such regulation and enforcement.

But even with measures that involve health and the environment, it seems that legislators and the public are better off knowing how new requirements will affect employment. Too often in recent years, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. At least on the federal level, environmental rules have been implemented with little regard to how they would affect businesses and workers.

Looking at all sides of the issue produces a better result. For example, West Virginia took a broad look at the emerging natural gas drilling boom, before the state detailed new guidelines and regulations, listening to the concerns of landowners, drilling companies and the public. So far, that seems to have worked, allowing the  drilling to move forward with reasonable protections for the public.

Proposals for a job impact statement have been made several times in the past, but this year the measure appears to have bipartisan support and a better chance of passage.

Sen. Evan Jenkins of Cabell County, who has championed the idea in the past, told The Associated Press that economists at Marshall University and West Virginia University have sophisticated modeling software that can help with the process.

“We stand on the floor every session talking about what’s good for jobs or bad for jobs. We campaign every election year that we will fight for jobs,” Jenkins said. “What this bill said is, let’s get serious about it.”

There always will be some legislation that has unintended consequences, but if the state can improve its performance on creating and protecting jobs, that is a step in the right direction.
 

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