CHARLESTON - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin urged the Legislature on Wednesday to expand several policies that he thinks could uproot West Virginia from difficult financial constraints.
The Democrat pointed to reductions in business-franchise and corporate income taxes and touted plans for a new ethane cracker plant and three polyethylene plants in Wood County. He also touched on a wide-ranging education bill that was a prominent issue during the last legislative session.
"We continue to experience positive change across the Mountain State and have set in motion many initiatives that will not fully bloom until long after my term has ended - but the hope of a fruitful harvest keeps us working hard each and every day," Tomblin said in prepared remarks in which he likened the work he and state lawmakers are doing to gardening.
Tomblin outlined how he plans to build on those programs, including a proposal to create an A-through-F grading scale for West Virginia's schools. He also wants to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math education. Tomblin is suggesting $500,000 more to fuel technical-career-training courses first funded last year.
And he hopes to improve the business climate, as well as fight drug abuse and better prepare the state for emergencies.
Although West Virginia is struggling through a budget deficit, Tomblin said the state remains strong because it prepared itself for lean years.
"We pay our bills on time and we've invested in our future by continuing to work together as we face future challenges," Tomblin said. "We will not impose financial burdens on future generations. In fact, our reserve fund is one of the healthiest in the nation. "
Despite the budget scenario, Tomblin still wants to reward teachers and state workers with modest raises. Teachers would receive a 2 percent raise in his budget, while state employees would get a $504 pay boost.
Tomblin emphasized that the state can spur growth without raising taxes. His budget taps into a $918 million rainy day fund that is one of the nation's best.
"Unlike other states that had to drain their reserve funds during the recent recession, West Virginia did not have to borrow one dime," Tomblin said.
He ended the speech by saying West Virginia, whose population is declining, has a bright future.
"For those who have left the Mountain State - come home. Come home to take advantage of the growing opportunities we are creating for you," he said. "West Virginia's garden is thriving and we will yield a great harvest for years to come."