ELKINS — Four local lawmakers discussed tourism issues during the annual Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon this week at the Arts Center.
Ty Nestor Rep, R66 District; Delegate Elias Cobb-Gonzalez, R-District 67; State Sen. Robert Karnes, 11th District; State Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-11 District, attended the event. Sidney Megna, who was the 2024 American Legion’s Assistant Governor of the Rhododendron Girls of America, served as moderator.
Meghna asked lawmakers if they had any bills or specific ideas about promoting recreation in the Mountain State.
Nestor said he has supported several bills in an effort to bring more visitors to the state.
“We obviously have a lot of attractive things in this case,” he said. said Nestor. “We’ve been developing several bills trying to make West Virginia more attractive. Whether it’s opening up segments of state-owned real estate for recreational use for things like the ability to ride e-bikes on trails. Or something else is opening up trails for things like ATVs and UTVs on Hope to attract people to West Virginia for recreation.
“We would like them to come here, spend their money and see what we have to offer. Let them get to know our beauty and decide if they want to build a business here or retire and live here.”
Coop-Gonzalez said he wanted to come at the topic from a different angle.
“I think the way you’re asking your question suggests that the lack of tourism is why we’re not getting economic growth in West Virginia,” he said. Coop-Gonzalez said. “It’s true to a certain extent, but really when it comes down to it, I see people moving to where the jobs are. The way to create jobs is to have a competitive tax structure…
“Business owners here in the area have told me they have other businesses in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and other places, and West Virginia is the hardest one to deal with. The HB 2526 tax package was a huge, massive step in the right direction and we’re not going to be more competitive with states in the immediate area. Not only that, but all over the United States.”
Bill 2526 cuts the tax this year by 21 percent and also provides for a number of refundable tax breaks for paying estate taxes.
Karnes spoke specifically about broadband in the Mountain State.
“I don’t know if people are aware but in the last couple of years we’ve had a lot of different things related to broadband and bringing more broadband to the area,” He said. “It’s a very important topic for me, both personally and professionally.
“I’ve always put up with slow internet in West Virginia because I was determined to live here…the infrastructure just isn’t there…we’re working through the problems from an infrastructure perspective.
“I think it’s important, but I don’t think it stops companies from coming to West Virginia necessarily, because we have pockets of high-speed internet,” Karnes said. “But we are working on it and we will continue to do so.”
Hamilton talked about how he avoided several bills that conflicted with the preservation of certain areas in West Virginia.
“As Chief of Natural Resources and Agriculture, the most important thing I have to say to delegates and senators is no, I can’t manage that,” said Hamilton.
“In terms of recreational activities, we’ve had bills for the last four or five years where they want to put ATVs, UTVs, and Jeeps on the Appalachian Trail, and they want to put them in state parks. And I stopped the bill right where it started…
“State parks and state forests are set aside for a purpose,” said Hamilton. “And you don’t want to go out there, say you chase like I do, and hear your ATV or UTV coming.”
All proceeds from the luncheon will go to support the tuition costs of two local students who will attend American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Rhododendron Girls State.