By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gave his annual State of the State Address Wednesday night to a joint assembly of the Legislature.
The 44-minute speech, which took place in the House chamber, focused on the accomplishments made over the past year, but also proposed some new initiatives in some areas, such as a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel, education, job skills training, reform of state purchasing regulations, and the elimination of obsolete state boards, councils and commissions.
Marion County representatives weighed in on the address.
Delegate Tim Manchin said said while there weren’t a lot of new initiatives proposed, those that were are “near and dear to our people’s hearts.”
“The first of those dealt with the in-home care registry, which will help our seniors and their families find good, qualified care providers,” Manchin said.
The proposed registry will make it easier for seniors and their families to find qualified, reliable in-home care, which Manchin said will save money for the state of West Virginia, and will be preferable for the seniors themselves.
“We all know that keeping our seniors in-home is the best thing for them. There’s no place like home for them,” Manchin said.
A second initiative Manchin voiced support for was purchasing reform. While Tomblin didn’t go into detail, Manchin said the idea is to streamline the process for state purchases, while also helping taxpayers get the best deal.
“It also dovetails with what some of the House’s initiatives are,” Manchin said.
One of those initiatives would help combat fraudulent claims for state money by contractors or public officials.
Delegate Linda Longstreth said that as vice-chair for Veterans Affairs and co-chair of Children and Families, she was glad to see the governor mention homelessness in his address.
“It’s an issue that a lot of people don’t pay too much attention to unless it happens to them,” Longstreth said.
The governor has proposed that the West Virginia Veterans Home and the VA Medical Center work together to provide immediate homeless shelters for veterans, and the revival of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, to combat homelessness at the local, community level, Longstreth said.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
She also voiced support for his proposed emphasis on training in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. Part of the initiative will involve bringing teachers of these topics directly into the schools, rather than making students travel to off-site technical centers.
“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 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.
Specifically within Marion County, Prezioso thought 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.
As chair of the finance committee, Prezioso voiced some concern over where the governor proposed getting money to pay for proposed pay raises for teachers and school service personnel, but he said that looking over those details and ensuring fiscal sustainability was the job of the finance committee. He stated that he and the committee would examine those numbers once they’re presented with the executive budget.
Majority Whip and Delegate Mike Caputo voiced support for what he called the “very modest” 2 percent raise proposed by Tomblin for teachers and school service personnel, as well as a small raise for state employees.
“It’s a very modest raise. We understand that, and we know it’s nowhere near where it should be,” Caputo said. “Our teachers, school service personnel and state employees are very good people, and certainly deserving of it, but we have to be financially responsible in the state, and we can’t spend more than we can afford.”
Caputo was also pleased to hear the governor give his support for coal and coal miners during the address.
“He is a huge fan of coal miners working because he knows that when you keep coal miners working, you keep a lot of other jobs working as well,” Caputo said.
State Sen. Bob Beach could not be reached for comment.
Email Colleen S. Good at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.