Tomblin focuses on education, corrections in State of the State - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Tomblin focuses on education, corrections in State of the State speech

Posted: Updated:

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State address Feb. 13 was scheduled to last about 50 minutes.

That's 10 minutes longer than his address last year, but with a full term ahead of him, he had more to celebrate and more to discuss.

Tomblin presented more than 20 proposals to the Legislature, highlighted by his proposals to reform education.

Tomblin opened his speech by citing the successes of the 2012 regular legislative session. He talked about the law to ban texting while driving and new laws to stop pill mills and doctor shopping, and he boasted of the reduction of the state's food tax and business franchise tax.

Tomblin wasted no time presenting his budget to the Legislature, pointing out that it has no new taxes. The state constitution mandates a balanced budget, but the governor's budget experts track the money in six-year spans, and they have warned that Fiscal Year 2014 would be the toughest of all.

"Unlike the federal government, we did not kick the can down the road by borrowing money or allowing deficits to mount," Tomblin said. "We told our agencies, almost a year ago, to do more with less."

In August, Tomblin asked state agencies to cut their budgets by 7.5 percent, but several agencies were exempt, such as education, the West Virginia State Police and the Department of Health and Human Resources, so the cuts resulted in $75 million, including more than $450,000 from Tomblin's office budget.

Tomblin's budget utilized $135 million in unused funds that he proposes be re-directed to meet other obligations in the next year.

Tomblin mentioned energy briefly, that a significant decline in the production of coal has resulted in declining tax revenues and employment.

But he said leaders of the state have the responsibility to fight for jobs and be good stewards of taxpayer resources.

"We must continue to keep our taxes and cost of doing business low, and this is particularly true when times are tough," Tomblin said.

Tomblin proposed a public, non-profit corporation to identify, promote and oversee programs that will foster economic development and environmental remediation to utilize so-called "brownfield" spots throughout the state.

Tomblin only touched on the state's roads during his speech, but several lawmakers have indicated that they expect a special legislative session to look specifically at highway funding.

The bulk of Tomblin's speech focused on education.

"I am from Chapmanville in Logan County," Tomblin said. "A coal town where hard work and long hours provided many families with good incomes.

"My parents saw to it that I received a great education in high school and at (West Virginia University) and at (Marshall University). I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree, and I know I would not be standing before you today without it."

Tomblin called parents the "greatest cheerleader" their children would ever have.

He discussed the education efficiency audit he ordered almost exactly a year ago, saying the state has learned a lot of good things but also a lot of bad things from the audit. Tomblin said education must change, "and that change begins now."

Among Tomblin's education proposals: working with the state Board of Education to provide teacher training aimed specifically at reading so all elementary teachers are prepared to help students read; legislation to require every county, within the next three years, to offer full-day preschool for 4-year-olds; a $17 million appropriation to preserve child care subsidies that were threatened just a few months ago.

Tomblin said work force education should start earlier – in middle school – and vocational training should be stressed for students who do not plan to attend college.

Tomblin also proposed the state pay for teachers who renew their national board certification, as the state already pays for initial certifications.

Tomblin also said aloud what education stakeholders had been speculating for months: Year-round, flexible calendars are on the table. He is proposing a bill that he said will not impose a new calendar on any school, but it will allow local boards of education to design their own calendars.

"It has been the goal of governors and the Legislature for decades to assure our students have adequate instructional time," Tomblin said. "But it's not happening."

Tomblin said state code must change for education reform to happen.

"We need to get back to a place of common sense in our approach to education," he said. "Otherwise, we will never get to an adequate level of instructional time. Instead, we will be stuck, like we were last year, where our students only averaged 179 days of instructional time."

Tomblin also said he wants to "embrace" Project 24, an initiative first started by former Gov. Bob Wise, which makes better use of technology.

And Tomblin said he wants to help West Virginians who need help with substance abuse, so he established FaceYourFuture.com, and he highlighted several representatives from the state's industries who have said they support Tomblin's quest for a drug-free workplace.

Tomblin also took a hard stance on drugged driving, saying he will propose legislation to strengthen the state's implied consent law so that drivers under the influence of drugs will be properly identified and tested, similar to legislation already in effect in Virginia.

Tomblin also said the recent gas line explosion near Sissonville highlighted the need to update the state's pipeline safety statutes because of their weak penalties and enforcement measures.

Tomblin will propose legislation to bring the state into federal compliance on pipeline safety, with a maximum penalty of as much as $200,000 per violation per day.

And Tomblin highlighted the recent report from the Council of State Governments, which suggests a few investments that could return more than $115 million to the state's budget in the next six years.