Tomblin touts successes of state, region
HUNTINGTON -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cited several success stories both locally and statewide during a meeting Friday with The Herald-Dispatch Editorial Board.
He talked about the partnership between the city of Huntington, National Guard and Division of Highways to tear down more than 50 abandoned homes; how community and technical colleges statewide have been matched up with employers to offer industry-specific training; and the $5 billion invested in the state in the past two years that has resulted in the creation of 6,500 jobs. He also said exports are up 50 percent, with 125 countries receiving items produced in the Mountain State.
"Our job as government leaders is to create a business climate that leads people to invest and create jobs," said Tomblin, a Democrat seeking re-election. His Republican opponent is Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney.
Tomblin said the state has shown fiscal responsibility with revenues staying steady even though food and business franchise taxes are being phased out.
But, Tomblin said there is room to grow. Among areas that have his attention are the coal market, education and the prison system.
Coal has been a big priority, considering the lawsuits filed against the Environmental Protection Agency. But Tomblin said the EPA isn't entirely to blame for the market being down. A warm winter and economic problems abroad also have led to lower demand for coal. He also said a cold winter and resurgence in the European and Chinese markets could turn the industry around, noting coal is a necessary ingredient for producing steel.
In education, Tomblin said he is awaiting recommendations on the education audit from the West Virginia Board of Education and two teachers' organizations, West Virginia Education Association and American Federation of Teachers-WV. He anticipates legislation will be introduced during the 2013 session stemming from the audit.
When it comes to the overcrowded prison problem, Tomblin said too many inmates are repeat offenders, meaning the recovery programs in place aren't helping.
"We're probably not doing a good job of having them prepared to go back into society," Tomblin said. "Getting them productive again (will cut the inmate population)."
He said the regional task forces he formed to address substance abuse are bringing recommendations back to him, many of which are specific to those areas of the state.
He said he will use $7.5 million budgeted by the Legislature this year to fund initiatives sought by the task forces. One area he said will receive help statewide is services for female inmates and juvenile offenders. Right now, most of the services available are for men, he said.
Tomblin also spoke about the federal health care law and how its full impact on the state budget is still not known. He said he has personally submitted questions and sent staffers to Washington, D.C., but is still unable to get answers.
Overall, Tomblin said the state is headed in the right direction, citing the comments he is getting on the campaign trail.
"I think there is some excitement in West Virginia we haven't seen in a while," he said. "People feel like there is an opportunity here, and that hasn't been that way in a while."