WEST Virginia's elected public managers got a couple of hard-earned compliments recently when bond ratings agencies applied their green eyeshades to some state bond issues.
It also got unsettling reminders of how far it has to go.
Standard & Poor's Ratings Services gave the state's general obligation road bonds an "AA" long-term rating, and reaffirmed its "AA-" rating on the state's appropriation debt.
Fitch Ratings issued similar cautiously positive judgments.
The news was in the fine print. It was stated in a reserved way, but it was there.
S&P cited the state's "solid financial management" and "demonstrated willingness to tackle large-scale financial challenges, as evidenced by the recent progress made in addressing West Virginia's unfunded pension liability and other post-employment benefits."
Fitch cited the state's "strong financial management" and "sound reserve position," adding:
"Long-term liabilities remain high, though the state remains committed to disciplined efforts begun 16 years ago to address accumulated financial challenges, in particular seriously underfunded teachers' pensions and workers' compensation systems. . . .
"Faced with severe fiscal and economic challenges during the 1980s, West Virginia has since institutionalized positive fiscal and management practices, highlighted by the governor's broad power to cut spending and the consolidated executive control of debt issuance."
There was a time when terms like "solid financial management" and "West Virginia" would not - could not - have appeared in the same sentence. The state was notorious for being a financial basket case.
It has taken many, many years to win a particle of praise from lenders, the people who determine how much West Virginia has to pay to borrow money. A series of governors and legislative leaders has had to work hard for this change in tune.
They should be proud of themselves.
We should recognize how much more work needs to be done.
West Virginia's political class has over the decades managed to produce the worst of two worlds.
First, it pursued policies that successfully deterred economic development and wealth creation, while preserving poverty.
West Virginians have hovered for years at 49th in per capita income, although statistical oddities recently pushed us up to 44th.