CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With a surge in membership in the House of Delegates, GOP lawmakers outlined their general goals for the session that begins today, saying they'll work to improve West Virginia's schools and business climate.Republicans now have 46 of 100 House seats -- more than at any time since 1930. The GOP gained 11 new House members after the November election. The increase also strengthens their numbers on legislative committees. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead said he and his colleagues support many recommendations detailed in a state education efficiency audit: giving local school boards more authority, cutting administrators at the state Department of Education and giving school principals more power to hire and fire staff."We must remove the red tape and top-heavy bureaucracy that dictates every move from Charleston and allow our principals to administer their schools, our teachers to teach and our students to learn," said Armstead, R-Kanawha, during a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday. "It's time to ensure excellence in our schools by rewarding our best teachers and promoting accountability."GOP House members did not propose any specific education legislation or reform measures during the news conference.Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is expected to outline an education reform package during his State of the State address at 7 p.m. today <co Wednesday>."The first thing we want to do is see what the governor's got and see what he thinks," said Minority Whip Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.To improve the state's business climate, the resurgent GOP plans to introduce legislation to set up an intermediate appeals court and repeal taxes on equipment and inventory -- proposals that have died during past legislative sessions.
"By setting aside a portion of the state excise tax on natural gas, we can boost job creation by eliminating the state tax on equipment and inventory, and we can also cut taxes for our state's citizens," Cowles said. "Natural gas production has the potential to create thousands of new jobs in our state and resulting revenues should, in turn, be reinvested to create additional jobs through tax deductions."Republican House members predicted Tomblin would "paint a rosy picture" about the state's finances and business climate during tonight's address.GOP members said 59,700 West Virginians were unemployed at last count."Nothing could be a greater priority during this session than job creation," Armstead said. "So many challenges facing our state can be tied back to unemployment and poverty."Republicans also vowed to propose ethics reform measures, but offered no specifics.Other items on their legislative agenda include defining marriage as between one man and one woman, and requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com