Gov. Tomblin delivers state of the state address
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin delivered his annual State of the State address on Jan. 14, kicking off the current legislative session. The text of his speech, in part, is as follows:
Forty years ago on a night much like tonight, I joined my fellow Legislators in this beautiful chamber as a young man and a recent college graduate just elected to the House of Delegates and wondered what on earth I had gotten myself into.
Armed with little more than a fresh perspective and a passion to make my home state the best it could be, I was eager to take on the challenges I knew we faced as a state.
On my first trip to the supply room to pick up my pens, papers and folders, I was stopped by the House clerk who wanted to know who the supplies were for. I said they were for me. And he responded, well, who are you? I said, I’m the new delegate from Logan County.
I imagine my emotions and expectations were not unlike our state’s and our nation’s youngest lawmaker, Saira Blair, who finds herself in this Chamber as a member of the majority, working with a governor of the opposite party, just as I did 40 years ago.
As many of you may know, that governor was Arch Moore. Tonight, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Senator Capito, and her family, as they mourn his passing.
As Governor Moore once welcomed me, tonight I welcome Delegate Blair, and all of the new faces in this Chamber. I’m confident we all share the same goalthe goal of putting West Virginia first and making it the greatest place it can be.
Serving our state and her people comes with great responsibility. We must work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as West Virginians united for the common good. This is West Virginia, not Washington, and we work together to meet the challenges we face as a state.
Through the years, I’m proud of the great progress we have made, together. We have improved our business climate, launched meaningful reforms to our education system, addressed our long-term liabilities, and cut taxes for working families and small businesses.
Just two weeks ago, we eliminated our state’s business franchise tax, not only encouraging employers to continue to invest in our state, but eliminating extra paperwork that made it more difficult to do business here.
Eliminating the business franchise tax is just one of the recent steps we’ve taken to responsibly reduce taxes for employers. These steps continue to encourage investments in West Virginia jobs.
But as I speak to the newest members of this Legislature, and I know we have more than a few of those, I’m sure you are aware this is not the only or the last hurdle we face to improve our state’s business climate.
Nearly four decades ago, our state was in danger of having the heat turned off in the Governor’s Mansion because we couldn’t pay our bills. We owed billions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities. Our credit rating was quickly approaching junk bond status, our residents waited months to receive their tax refunds, and doctors weren’t being paid for treating patients covered by PEIA.
While we can agree there are challenges that still lay ahead, the state of our state is much different, much better, than before.
We have one of the strongest Rainy Day Funds in the country. We are credited for being one of the most fiscally responsible states in the nation. Our bond ratings were recently reaffirmed-a move that saves taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars when building schools, roads, and making long-term investments to improve our infrastructure. We accomplished these things, together.
We’ve reformed our workers’ compensation system so businesses operating here pay more reasonable insurance rates and hardworking West Virginians receive the benefits they deserve in a timely manner. This year, businesses in West Virginia saw a reduction in workers’ compensation premiums for the 10th straight year, a total of more than $280 million in savings since 2005.
We’ve worked together to make tough decisions, and next year, we will pay off the remaining debt from the old workers’ comp fund. We have come too far and worked too hard to go back on the commitments we made several years ago. We accomplished these things, together.
In the early 2000s, doctors were threatening to leave the state because of slow payments and unreasonable medical malpractice insurance premiums. We reformed our legal system and created the West Virginia Mutual Insurance Company, which serves as a model for states across the country, providing physicians with good coverage at reasonable rates. We accomplished these things, together.
And just three years ago, we rolled up our sleeves to tackle our state’s OPEB debt. While other states were only talking about eliminating debt related to other post-employment benefits, we took bold action. We were the first state in the country to address the concerns of local officials who were terrified of bankruptcy, and we found a way to pay it down in a fiscally responsible manner.
Because of these steps, our state’s $5 billion OPEB debt will be paid off without any tax increases. We accomplished these things, together.
Responsible actions like workers’ compensation reform, medical malpractice reform, and gradual reductions in our business and consumer taxes, help West Virginia employers, protect our residents, and are critical to our continued economic growth.
We have worked together to make significant changes to improve our state’s legal system, and I resent those who irresponsibly label us a judicial hellhole. Unreasonable and irrational labels drummed up by out-of-state interests do not help our efforts to engage potential investors and strengthen our economy.
There is always more work to be done, and together we can consider reasonable, responsible reforms to our legal system.
We’ve worked hard to create an environment that allows us to compete for new and expanding businesses-projects like Diamond Electric which recently relocated its North American headquarters to Putnam County, American Woodmark which announced a $30 million expansion in Hardy County, and Sogefi in Wayne County which has invested tens of millions of dollars in our state, employing hundreds of West Virginians.
We look forward to adding Project ASCENT, the proposed multi-billion dollar cracker in Wood County, to this impressive and growing list.
This November, I traveled to Brazil to meet with senior officials from Odebrecht and Braskem to review their continued progress and chart our next steps moving forward. This type of project will serve as an anchor for new value-added industries and chemical hubs that will be part of a manufacturing renaissance in America.
Company officials are pleased with the progress they have made over the past year and the tremendous welcome they’ve received from the number of West Virginians who have touched this project in one way or another. Our recent mission allowed us to demonstrate our firm commitment to bring this facility to the Mountain State. Tonight, I am more confident than ever this investment will usher in an era of unprecedented growth for our entire region.
In 2011, we were the first state to pass comprehensive legislation regulating the drilling of Marcellus Shale. Since then, we’ve taken significant steps to ensure we remain at the center of the Marcellus and Utica shale boom.
Companies are investing billions of dollars in our state to support the production, processing, and transportation of natural gas and creating a number of new opportunities to develop these rich deposits. This October, Southwestern Energy invested more than $5 billion in West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania to acquire Marcellus and Utica shale properties. This investment is one of the largest of its kind, not only in our state, but across the country.
…I’ve directed the Department of Revenue to launch a comprehensive review of our state’s public lands to identify opportunities where West Virginia can take advantage of this energy revolution.
We have the potential to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in bonus and royalty payments, monies that can be invested to improve our state parks, support tourism initiatives across the state and finance a number of other worthy endeavors to strengthen job creation.
For generations, West Virginia has been one of our nation’s leading energy producing states. As we continue to explore opportunities to diversify our state’s energy portfolio, we must ensure the safety of hardworking West Virginians at drilling sites, production facilities and pipelines across the state. That’s why I am requesting a study to determine how we can best protect workers at natural gas operations. We must ensure our workers have the proper training and skills to do their jobs in the most effective way possible and return home safely.
Workforce safety must be the expectation for businesses operating in West Virginia, not an afterthought.
Economic investments, as well as those we are making to improve our infrastructure, are important to all of us, but they come at a cost.
Our state’s highways and bridges are critical to our continued economic growth. This year, the Division of Highways spent an additional $48 million on resurfacing projects and bridge work compared to what was spent in 2013. We are making progress, but we must find ways to do more.
With the help of legislation we passed together, our Division of Highways is now able to use more innovative financing options to build and maintain our roads and bridges. And tonight, I’ve directed the Division of Highways to include the completion of U.S. 35 as part of its six-year plan.
In recent years, inaction at the federal level has put construction at a standstill and new highway projects have been difficult to complete. I will continue to work with our Congressional delegation to identify a stable federal funding source for our much-needed road improvements.
When highway funding is hard to come by, eliminating more than $85 million in dedicated revenues to maintain our state’s highways is irresponsible.
…we need to work together to identify alternative ways to minimize the impact on our residents who travel the Turnpike each and every day.
…Tonight, we are more than just Democrats and Republicans. We are, and will forever be, West Virginians.