The Times West Virginian

January 12, 2014

Education critical as West Virginia looks foward to ‘a fruitful harvest’

Times West Virginian

— West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has a great love of gardening.

In last week’s State of the State Address in Charleston, Tomblin compared governing to gardening in looking toward the future, noting that both require “planning, patience and foresight.”

“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.

The governor is confident West Virginia is on solid footing.

“Make no mistake, the state of our state is strong,” he said. “We pay our bills on time, and we’ve invested in our future by continuing to work together as we face future challenges.”

He is confident, though, that the future can be brighter and that the slight population loss West Virginia has been experiencing can be reversed.

“For those who have left the Mountain State — come home. Come home to take advantage of the growing opportunities that we are creating for you,” Tomblin said. “West Virginia’s garden is thriving, and we will yield a great harvest for years to come.”

Education — critical for the state’s economic future — was a key part in the speech.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, supports Tomblin’s emphasis on training in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields.

“Hopefully this will promote more student interest to get into these technical fields,” Longstreth said. She stated STEM will also be a focus for the House of Delegates this year.

State Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said that, as a former technical education director and administrator and a teacher, he was pleased that the governor was emphasizing STEM and technical education.

“He’s looking out to build a good work force and educate students to be employable,” Prezioso said.

Within Marion County, Prezioso believes that by changing where technical education is taught, and allowing students to take all of their classes at a technical center rather than traveling back and forth between schools, technical education would become more attractive.

House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, commended Tomblin’s proposed mix of vocational and higher education.

“By taking the step of putting the STEM services at vo-tech centers, I think that would go a long way for people who aren’t necessarily college bound,” Miley said.

Tomblin made a number of other proposals. He advocated for slight teacher and state worker pay raises, even as West Virginia faces a $60 million budget deficit. Teachers would receive a 2 percent raise in his budget, while state employees would get a $504 pay boost. The governor also said he hopes to improve the business climate, as well as fight drug abuse and better prepare the state for emergencies.

Plenty will unfold during the ongoing legislative session, and there will be some political battles, for sure.

“It was sort of more of a pep talk and looking back than it was a road map for the future, and that’s what concerns me,” said House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, of Kanawha County. “It’s incredibly important that we take the next 60 days and make some bold changes, particularly in terms of education, in terms of economic growth, in terms of our tax structure.”

Republicans also questioned the proposed raises.

“I’m a little nervous about talking about pay raises in a very bad fiscal year. I understand people need the money, but we’re struggling with a big hole in the budget, so it will be interesting to see how he proposes we pay for that,” said Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall of Winfield.

Raising taxes is not on the governor’s agenda, so there will no dispute there. His budget taps into $84 million of a $918 million Rainy Day Fund that is one of the nation’s best.

“Unlike other states that have had to drain their reserve funds during the recent recession, West Virginia did not have to borrow one dime,” Tomblin said. “In fact, our reserve fund is one of the healthiest in the nation.”

Opposing political sides in Charleston have avoided the paralysis so common in Washington, D.C., so we’re confident the “gardening” this legislative session will help West Virginia be in position to be the best it can be in the present and the years ahead.