Tomblin touts achievements
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's fourth State of the State address emphasized accomplishments over new initiatives for the 2014 legislative session.
In a 44-minute address Wednesday evening to a joint session of the Legislature in the House chamber, Tomblin stressed that he believes the state of West Virginia is strong.
"We pay our bills on time, and we've invested in the future by continuing to work together as we face future challenges," Tomblin said.
Tomblin emphasized accomplishments that include operating a fiscally sound government, attracting economic development, improving public schools, reducing prison overcrowding and confronting the state's epidemic of drug abuse.
Facing what he called a strained budget year, Tomblin proposed only a few initiatives for the Legislature to take up during the 60-day regular session. Among them:
• Pay raises of 2 percent for teachers and school service personnel, and a "modest" $504 raise for state government employees.
"We must invest in our future -- sow the seeds for tomorrow -- and invest in our children and those called to public service," Tomblin said in proposing the pay raises. Both proposals drew applause from legislators.
• Have the state Board of Education implement an A-to-F grading system for public schools. "It is a rating system we can all understand. This rating system will provide a better indicator of school-wide achievement," the governor said.
• Reconstitute the STEM Commission to promote student interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
"Emphasis on STEM in education will prepare our children for tomorrow's jobs," Tomblin said. "It will develop skilled workers and professionals for qualified employment."
• Expand the Advanced Careers Program, offering high-standard technical training programs, from five to 32 career and technical centers around the state.
• Reform state purchasing regulations to eliminate government waste and "ensure that every dollar of state money is spent with proper oversight to achieve the best value."
• Eliminate a number of obsolete state boards, commissions and councils.
Much of Tomblin's address revisited accomplishments not only in his term as governor but during his long tenure as Senate president, and dating back to his time as Senate Finance Committee chairman.
"We continue to experience positive change in the Mountain State, and have set into motion many initiatives that will not fully bloom until long after my term has ended," Tomblin said, invoking a repeated theme in the speech, comparing his 40 years in state government to his lifelong avocation of gardening.
"Governing, like gardening, takes planning, patience and foresight," he said.
Tomblin noted that West Virginia increased its Rainy Day reserve fund to $920 million at a time when many other states emptied their reserve accounts during the recession, has made timely contributions to public employee pension funds and has paid down what was an $8 billion unfunded liability in Workers' Compensation to less than $500 million.
Tomblin also outlined economic development successes, citing companies that have made major investments in West Virginia, including the Sogefi Group, Carbonyx, Gestamp, Toyota, Hino Motors and NGK Spark Plugs.
He highlighted plans by Brazilian company Odebrecht to locate a billion-dollar ethane cracker plant and petrochemical complex in Wood County, calling it a "game-changer."
Tomblin reiterated his support for the coal industry, promising to continue to help keep it alive and well.
"While I will never back down from the EPA, because of its misguided policies on coal, we should remind ourselves a challenge doesn't always lead to confrontation," he said.
Tomblin also talked about the first National Boy Scout Jamboree hosted at the new Bechtel Summit Reserve in Fayette County, calling it "the highlight of last summer in West Virginia."
As always, Tomblin recognized members of the audience, including Dwight and Brook Pauley, a father and son whose small business, Rocky Brook Sinkers, has grown to distribute fishing sinkers to retailers across the country, state teacher of the year Erin Sponaugle of Martinsburg, Josh Morrison of Huntington, who overcame drug addiction to become a successful businessman and new husband, Marshall football coach Doc Holliday and others.
He also recognized the late Buck Harless, saying the coal and timber magnate and philanthropist "gave to his community and to our state a blueprint for a life well lived."
Tomblin closed by addressing the next generation of West Virginians, telling young people, "Stay in school, stay off drugs, apply yourself and find your passion. The jobs will be here for you. The present is bright and the future is brighter."
Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.