UPDATE 1/8/14 @ 10:45 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hopes to keep tax rates level amid a budget shortfall by tapping West Virginia's rainy day fund.
The Democrat wants lawmakers to use $148 million in reserves next year's budget. Some $84 million would come from the state's $918 million rainy day fund. The money would cover rising Medicaid costs. West Virginia has dipped into the fund only during emergencies, never for budget patches.
Tomblin will seek 7.5 percent cuts at state agencies. The proposal shields areas like public education and corrections. Department of Revenue officials said no particular program or agency would be targeted for elimination. Agencies would determine cuts.
The proposal includes slight raises for teachers and state workers. Tomblin will present his budget to lawmakers during Wednesday's state of the state address.
Tomblin used the analogy during his State of the State address Wednesday night, saying that legislation that was passed last year to improve schools and help the business climate is already seeing sprouts of success.
And he made proposals to build on those changes, including the implementation of an A-through-F grading system for public schools and a stronger emphasis on science and math courses.
And while the state is facing a tight budget year, Tomblin said it remains strong because West Virginia has until now resisted dipping into its reserves.
The governor also emphasized the need to fight drug abuse.
Several lawmakers attended the annual "Issues & Eggs" breakfast early Wednesday morning. The Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce sponsors the event every year to discuss goals and share views of the business community with lawmakers.
“As we prepare for another legislative session, the Charleston Chamber wants to be proactive and introduce innovative ideas,” said Matt Ballard, the Chamber’s president and CEO. “At the same time, we want to keep a look out for policies and bills that could impact the region and state. Issues & Eggs presents an excellent opportunity for you to hear directly from your representatives on the issues that matter to you and your business.”
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin will present his priorities to the legislature during his State of the State Address at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Amy Shuler Goodwin, Director of Communications, says the governor has been preparing for this address all week.
“As we begin this legislative session the governor is looking forward to unveiling this agenda and working with member of the house and senate," Goodwin said.
Governor Tomblin is expected to talk about several crucial issues facing West Virginia, including education and the state's economy.
"You will hear the governor not only talk about the gains West Virginia has made since the last session, with the development of the cracker in the Mountain State and the impact we’ve seen with the success of the 2013 education bill…but the governor also will speak to the state of the state, our financial outlook, and his vision to improve education, growing a skilled workforce, and also the care of our seniors and veterans,“ Goodwin said.
Republicans will set it's sights on small business during this upcoming session. GOP lawmakers say they want to reform the tax code and provide incentives to small businesses.
They also wants to increase the homestead exemption for seniors, reduce the social security tax burden and raise the minimum low income tax exemption. Other tax reduction ideas include cutting the tax businesses pay on their equipment and inventory
Meanwhile, democrats are setting their sights on the oil and gas industry. They say they want to pass measures that get West Virginians trained to work in the growing oil and gas industry. They also want to expedite the permitting process in the energy sector.
Democratic leaders say they will also create a committee that will focus on all matters related to small businesses and entrepreneurship.
WSAZ.com will carry the governor's State of the State address starting at 6:50 p.m. Wednesday.