WSAZ | Charleston, West Virginia | News

State of the State Address

By: Jessica Ralston, Michael Hyland Email
By: Jessica Ralston, Michael Hyland Email

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) delivered his first "State of the State" address to hundreds of lawmakers, business leaders and lobbyists at the Capitol complex in Charleston Wednesday night.

Tomblin is acting as Governor, filling the remaining two years of the term vacated by former Gov. Joe Manchin (D). Manchin left the Governor's office in December to take over the late Robert C. Byrd's senate seat in Washington.

Despite a controversial fight among lawmakers to call for a special election to fill Manchin's gubernatorial seat, Tomblin focused on what he deemed to be the key issues facing West Virginia.

"Our top priority must be to continue to improve our business climate to attract, retain and create good-paying private sector jobs," said Tomblin.

From teacher jobs to retail jobs, the state's economy dominated the speech. That move earned him praise from some within his party. But, members say they want more details.

House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne) described the speech as "not too specific, a little general. But, [there were] some ideas there about job creation, and I like those. And West Virginia being more attractive to business, I like that. We'll just have to look at the specifics to see what we can and cannot do with it."

"We have a lot to do in a short period of time. His comments were a little on the general side. So, we really have to wait and see the legislation," said state Sen. Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha).

Tomblin called for a one-time $800 pay raise for teachers and said education reform is necessary.

But, some education groups are skeptical about the raise.

"Having a salary this year and seeing it drop next year is certainly not an enticement to retain teachers into the profession or to attract people into the profession," said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee.

"But, this is the first time we've had any mention of any pay in the last three years in a state of the state, so it's a start," said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

Tomblin also wants to keep the state budget in the black without raising taxes or cutting funding for programs.

He talked about pursuing clean coal technology while also keeping coal thousands of coal jobs.

"In these tough economic times, we should be looking for more ways to use coal, not less. It is hard to understand why some people want to turn their back on and vilify such an important resource that has such potential - and a proven track record - for our country," Tomblin said.

Jobs and bringing business into the state were the main talking points. Tomblin announced that Macy's has invested $150 billion dollars into building a fulfillment center in Berkeley County. The center will provide at least 900 jobs.

During the speech he said, "To that end, I am submitting a number of reform proposals aimed at focusing our State on job creation and economic development."

"I believe there are steps we can take to make West Virginia more attractive to businesses that want to expand in or come to our state," he continued. "For example, we lack, a sales tax credit to assist distribution and fulfillment businesses with some up-front costs for expanding or locating in West Virginia. I will, therefore, submit legislation to you to provide additional enhancements to recruit these businesses to our state."

Tomblin got support in proposing some tax cuts and no increases.

He recommended lowering the state's food tax from the current 3 cents to 2 cents. If passed by legislators, it would reduce revenue to the state by about $26 million per year, according to staff members in the governor's office. He said he eventually would like to phase out the tax entirely.

"Cutting the food tax and giving the West Virginia people a break is something we definitely need to look at," says Del. Meshea Poore (D-Kanawha).

"It was nice that he mentioned reducing the food tax. That's very much needed. But, I think we can be much more aggressive and have a more bold agenda," says Del. Jonathan Miller (R-Berkeley).

He did not directly address the special election controversy. Instead, he said it's time for "stability" and to focus on progress over politics.


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