Tomblin, Maloney stand ground
CHARLESTON -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the Democratic incumbent, and Republican gubernatorial challenger and businessman Bill Maloney exchanged verbal jabs Tuesday night in the only televised debate between the two before the Nov. 6 election.
Both offered two very different plans for the Mountain State, which led to a handful of heated exchanges on the stage at Walker Theater at the Clay Center in Charleston. The debate was hosted by the West Virginia Broadcasters Association and sponsored in part by AARP West Virginia.
Maloney was highly critical of Tomblin in the areas of broadband, health care, education and the Department of Health and Human Services. He accused the administration of wasting federal broadband dollars on expensive routers which are supposedly still sitting on shelves, while charging Tomblin with hiring too many consultants instead of taking action.
"We're hiring consultants to know what to say to other consultants," Maloney said during an exchange about the $750,000 audit of the state's public education system.
When asked about some of the audit's recommendations, including one stating principals be allowed to hire the best teachers, Maloney sided with more local control, while Tomblin said he is preparing a host of recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.
The two talked at length about the business and economic climate, with Tomblin pointing to a balanced budget and ability to set aside $65 million in surplus tax collections to help offset an expected increase of $200 million for Medicaid. The governor also said the community and technical college system is working with local industry to identify employer needs and crafting programs to teach those skills.
"West Virginia is poised to be able to move forward in a dramatic way," Tomblin said.
And, while Tomblin said a warm winter and unstable global markets have led to a slowdown in the coal industry, Maloney blamed the Logan County lawmaker for voting for House Bill 103 back in 2009. The bill was called the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act, but Maloney described it as cap and trade, which he said has hurt the state's ability to capitalize on its abundance of coal and natural gas.
Maloney also said he would fight President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"We need to take on Obama's EPA," he said. "The (state) cap and trade bill, we need to get rid of it."
He also said the tax code needs overhauled, while promising to push for an intermediate appellate court, and blaming those issues for being the foundation of a lackluster business climate.
"We need to fix the way we tax," Maloney said. "Make it fair and quit picking winners and losers."
Tomblin countered, saying simply eliminating corporate taxes will hurt education. He also said the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals just recently started its business court and wants to give that a chance to work before creating another level of government.
Maloney also pointed to the Home Rule program and to what Huntington did in cutting business and occupation taxes while implementing a 1 percent sales tax. He said more cities and counties need that type of local control.
Tomblin also said he would continue to work with Century Aluminum officials to get a deal in place to reopen its Jackson County plant. The Public Service Commission issued an order last week detailing a special rate plan for Century, but the company said Tuesday the plan wasn't enough.
Maloney said it's another example of not having a level playing field, accusing Century Aluminum of using lobbyists to get a better deal than what small business owners can get.
Maloney also said he will work to consolidate government and reduce its role, citing room for privatization and the need for a full scale audit of every department. One department he wants to assess is DHHR, which has come under scrutiny in recent months for a director who commutes between offices in Charleston and Clarksburg and for lawsuits from suspended administrators involving how an advertising contract was awarded.
"DHHR is probably the worst for cronyism and nepotism," Maloney said.
Tomblin said an investigation is ongoing, and he said he's brought in an expert to help coordinate efforts among the many programs within DHHR. That prompted a harsh response from Maloney, who again accused Tomblin of wasting money on consultants instead of talking with DHHR employees about the needs they see at ground level.
During his closing statement, Tomblin reminded voters the election is about real facts and not just sound bites. He also tried to distance himself from Obama.
"This is not Washington, D.C.," Tomblin said. "It's West Virginia, and we do things differently here."
He cited cuts to and the eventual elimination of the food tax and several major executive bills that passed during the 2012 session, including a plan to pay down a major unfunded liability, coal mine safety and substance abuse.
"We've come a long way, but there's still a long way to go," Tomblin said.
Maloney again went after Tomblin in his closing statement, saying he is tired of hearing that things could have been better.
"This election is about jobs, mismanagement, corruption and Obama," Maloney said. "My opponent is on the wrong side of all those issues. We deserve so much better."