Editors Note: Governor Tomblins State of the State address has been edited for length.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last Wednesday delivered the 2015 State of the State Address in the House Chamber at State Capitol Complex.
His remarks follow.
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.
Just two weeks ago, we eliminated our states 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 weve taken to responsibly reduce taxes for employers. These steps continue to encourage investments in West Virginia jobs.
Nearly four decades ago, our state was in danger of having the heat turned off in the Governors Mansion because we couldnt 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 werent 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.
Weve 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 tenth straight year, a total of more than 280 million dollars in savings since 2005.
Weve worked together to make tough decisions, and next year, we will pay off the remaining debt from the old workers comp fund.
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.
And just three years ago, we rolled up our sleeves to tackle our states 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 states $5 billion OPEB debt will be paid off without any tax increases.
Weve 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 theyve 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.
In 2011, we were the first state to pass comprehensive legislation regulating the drilling of Marcellus Shale. Since then, weve 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.
Tens of thousands of our residents are already benefiting from these developments, and Im committed to ensuring our state continues to capitalize on this abundant natural resource and the opportunities it brings. With this in mind, Ive directed the Department of Revenue to launch a comprehensive review of our states 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 nations leading energy producing states. As we continue to explore opportunities to diversify our states energy portfolio, we must ensure the safety of hardworking West Virginians at drilling sites, production facilities and pipelines across the state. Thats 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 states 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, Ive directed the Division of Highways to include the completion of US 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 states highways is irresponsible. This year, 84 percent of all tolls collected on the West Virginia Turnpike were collected from out-of-state drivers and commercial vehicles.
Instead of eliminating tolls, we need to work together to identify alternative ways to minimize the impact on our residents who travel the Turnpike each and every day.
When I became governor four years ago, I made a promise that I would go anywhere and sit down with anyone to bring jobs to the Mountain State. When investors knock on the door of our states Development Office, we ask, How can we help? These strong personal relationships are critical for our state and our economy.
When companies investing here have unmet needs, we take action, and we must do the same thing for small business owners who already call our state home.
West Virginians make great products, and we need to make sure entrepreneurs like Isabella Yosuico can continue to succeed. Soon after Isabellas second son, Isaac, was born, she and her husband, Ray, were told by doctors that he would have low muscle tone and weakness common to children with Downs syndrome.
Like any mom wanting to help, Isabella sought a solution.
She took a scrap of cloth, sand from her boys sandbox and created a tiny pair of weights to put on Isaacs wrists and ankles to help him develop muscle strength. When Isaacs physical therapist saw them, she encouraged Isabella to consider making them for other children with similar obstacles. In May, Isabella launched MightyTykes as part of the 2014 Abilities EXPO in New York City.
We must encourage the same innovation we ask of all of those investing in our state and allow our states entrepreneurs to put their skills to work without the burden of unnecessary state restrictions.
Thats why tonight I am proposing legislation to give our craft brewers increased opportunities to succeed as part of our states growing craft beer industry.
Our continued economic growth and the enormous potential that lies ahead place even more urgency on developing a skilled workforce.
Recent studies show West Virginia will generate 30,000 new jobs each year through 2018 and nearly 60 percent of these jobs will require at least a two-year degree. These are good paying jobs in the manufacturing, construction and natural gas industries as well as healthcare and education.
Since 2007, West Virginias community and technical colleges have developed 133 new programs specifically tailored toward workforce development and training. Many of these partnerships, like the Appalachian Petroleum Program Training Center, were created to strengthen our states growing manufacturing, chemical and natural gas sectors.
This center, a joint partnership between Pierpont and West Virginia Northern Community College, is one of only 14 programs of its kind in the country. It brings together industry representatives and the academic community to equip West Virginians with the skills they need to be part of these growing industries.
Recent investors have identified a critical need for instrumentation technology programs to support new and growing industries across the state. Blue Ridge and BridgeValley Community and Technical Colleges answered their call with specialized programs supported by private sector companies eager to hire West Virginia workers.
The number of students now earning certificate degrees and two-year associate degrees has increased by 57 percent. Thats an accomplishment we all can be proud of.
Preparing our future workforce doesnt start with our community and technical colleges. Across the state, we are working with middle school and high school students to share the opportunities that await them after graduation.
Over the past several months, Ive traveled to a number of schools to meet our students and introduce a new education initiative. Its called My State, My Life, and its designed to inspire and encourage our students to embrace their bright future here in the Mountain State. The West Virginia of today is not the same place it was decades ago. We are ushering in an era of change that will provide our students with opportunities for a great life here at home.
As we work to develop these programs, we understand we must expand our vision to prepare more than just the future members of our workforce.
We must also support existing workers, especially our states hardworking coal miners. I know times are tough, but let me be clear, I will never stop fighting against federal regulations that harm our states energy industry and devastate our miners, their families and our communities.
Last month, we filed comments related to the EPAs carbon pollution emission guidelines and urged the EPA to reconsider its proposed plan. Federal bureaucrats must understand the impact these new rules will have on families and communities here and across the country.
While we remain hopeful the EPA will consider the effects regulations are already having on our economy, we continue to offer programs to provide coal miners and their families with the critical training they need to explore a different career path, if thats a choice they wish to make.
BridgeValley, New River and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical Colleges all offer programs to re-train hardworking miners and their families with the skills they need to succeed. These accelerated training programs are based on fundamental skills that are valuable no matter what high demand field our miners choose, even if they are able to find re-employment underground.
No matter how West Virginians have been affected by the downturn in our states energy sector, re-training and job assistance are available. Over the past four years, Workforce West Virginia has invested more than 48 million dollars in state and federal funds to retrain displaced workers and their families.
As West Virginias military men and women return from serving around the world, we stand together to welcome them home with open arms.
In 2009, my friend and one of our states Silver Star recipients, James McCormick, came up with an idea to help veterans find transitional job training and meaningful work here at home. Last year, the Legislature passed a bi-partisan bill to establish the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program which helps our states veterans provide fresh produce for their families and develop small working farms across the state.
James has dedicated his time and talents to helping our veterans return to civilian life and transition to careers as farmers and livestock managers.
As a former teacher, father and the husband of a college president, I understand the importance of a good education. As Governor, I recognize improving educational programs and increasing opportunities for our kids, and our teachers, is fundamental to our states continued growth and economic success.
From touring Edgewood Elementary School on Charlestons West Side to celebrating the newly-renovated Harpers Ferry Middle School in the Eastern Panhandle, Ive had the opportunity to see firsthand changes were making to help our students succeed.
As we compete in todays global economy, we must start with our middle school and high school students by providing them with the high-tech skills they need.
Thats why this year Ive set aside funding to establish a STEM network to review current STEM-related education initiatives and refine and expand local programs to better serve our students. As we increase and improve STEM-education opportunities, there will be a need for more certified chemistry, robotics and advanced math teachers in our classrooms.
We must ensure our students are being taught by great teachers including those who may not have a traditional education degree.
This year, I will introduce legislation to expand opportunities for skilled West Virginians who have a passion for teaching but may not have a teaching background. We need to find ways to streamline the process and encourage those who have a passion to teach so they can share their knowledge with our kids. We must give local school systems better flexibility to train and hire subject-matter experts to fill long-term vacancies in critical subject areas.
Tonight, I am honored to introduce our 2015 Toyota Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Teacher of the Year, Gail Adams. Inspiration can come from a place we least expect. Sometimes it comes from teaching a Jazzercise class.
While leading each class, Gail laughed as she corrected the grammar of the song lyrics that played.
And after months of joking about becoming an English teacher, she finally felt the spark that awakened a passion for teaching. She followed her heart, enrolled in college and four years later, she earned her teaching degree.
Today, Gail is not only teaching Advanced English to her students at Wheeling Park High School, but she is answering the tough questions she once had as a high school senior. Instead of just reading modern literature and studying the classics, Gails students are also learning about banking, financing a college education and finding a rewarding career.
We are fortunate to have businesses that understand the value of a good education here in West Virginia. At this time, Id also like to recognize two individuals who deserve our thanks for their continued support of the Teacher of the Year program.
Fred Early, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Millie Marshall, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia please stand so we may thank you for your continued commitment to our states teachers.
A strong workforce is a drug-free workforce. Substance abuse is a heartbreaking problem facing families across West Virginia each and every day.
With the help of the Governors Council on Substance Abuse, weve taken bold action to stop the production of meth and increase practice standards for pain clinics to ensure our residents are using prescription drugs responsibly.
Over the past two years, weve worked together to draft legislation and approve new rules to regulate pain management clinics across the state. Since July, the Department of Health and Human Resources has inspected seven pain clinics. Three of those have been ordered to close and denied licensure for violation of these new standards.
Our residents must have access to pain management treatment options but not at the expense of irresponsible prescription practices.
Im proud of the steps we have taken to curb this epidemic, but we must do more. As we continue our efforts to address the abuse of prescription medications, we must also be prepared to combat the increased availability of illegal street drugs. Today, heroin use is on the rise, and we must stop this lethal drug from ruining the lives of our citizens.
This session, I will introduce legislation to help our states emergency responders and families facing drug abuse save the lives of those who abuse heroin. Naloxone is critical to countering the effects of a heroin overdose. By expanding access to this life-saving drug, we can prevent overdose deaths and give those suffering from substance abuse the opportunity to seek help, overcome their addiction and return to their families, work places and communities.
In May, we announced a significant step toward reducing prison overcrowding and drug abuse. Since then, weve reinvested nearly $2.5 million in community-based substance abuse treatment and recovery services across the state.
Tonight, Im pleased to announce the investment of an additional $660 thousand to expand treatment options across the state including new intensive outpatient services in the Northern and Eastern Panhandles.
In 2013, we worked together to embrace the Justice Reinvestment Act and developed a research-based plan to rehabilitate those in our justice system. These reforms maximize our corrections dollars and lower the financial burden on our overextended prison system while protecting our states finances.
Through our landmark justice reinvestment efforts, weve learned data-driven programs do work. Most of our efforts have focused on addressing our adult corrections system, but we also must do everything we can to meet the needs of our youth.
Between 1997 and 2011, West Virginia saw the largest percentage increase in youth confinements of any state in the country. This June, with bipartisan support from every level of our three branches of government, we embarked on a comprehensive review of our juvenile justice system.
This task force, including law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, faith-based representatives and West Virginia families, looked at evidence-based programs and identified best practices that make the most sense for West Virginia.
Tonight, Im announcing legislation to reform our states juvenile justice system. It will establish truancy diversion specialists in all 55 counties and increase the use of community-based services to help families mend and get our kids back on track. We will also increase the number of youth reporting centers across the state to produce better outcomes for children and their families by getting them the help they need.
At a cost of $4.5 million, this legislation is projected to reduce the number of DHHR residential placements and Division of Juvenile Services commitments by at least 40 percent over the next 5 years and will save taxpayers $59 million.
We are also strengthening the West Virginia National Guards incredibly successful Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy. Since the Academy was established in 1993, nearly 3,000 teens have graduated and gone on to be positive influences in their communities. This December, 131 cadets graduated from the Academy.
Of the new graduates, 16 percent are pursuing their college degree with the help of PROMISE scholarships, 26 percent are receiving training at one of our states vocational schools, 24 percent have chosen military careers and the rest have successfully completed training programs to enter our workforce.
The ChalleNGe Academy is making a difference in the lives of at-risk kids across the state. And tonight, we welcome two graduates whose experiences will inspire other young West Virginians to follow their lead.
As we expand opportunities for our kids to succeed, child welfare reforms are critical to keeping our children safe at home. With this in mind, Ive directed the Department of Health and Human Resources to work together with Workforce West Virginia to help parents find stable employment to support their families.
This legislative session, I challenge those of us gathered in this chamber and West Virginians across the state to come together. We must set aside our political differences, and stand united, as West Virginians for the greater good.
Tonight, Im proud to welcome two West Virginia law enforcement heroes who personify what it means to put the welfare of others above themselves.
Two weeks ago, Lewisburg Police Lieutenant Jeromy Dove, Corporal Mike Arbaugh and Patrolman Nicholas Sams responded to what seemed to be a routine traffic stop. As they approached the stopped vehicle, Lieutenant Dove and Patrolman Sams were shot in the line of duty.
Across the state, dedicated officers like Lieutenant Dove and Patrolman Sams, answer the call to protect and serve, putting the safety and wellbeing of their fellow West Virginians first. This week, Lieutenant Dove, Corporal Arbaugh and Patrolman Sams put on their uniforms and returned to work.
Just as these two brothers in blue have taught us, we all are part of something much bigger. Among the mountains we call home, we are charting a new path – one built on collaboration and mutual respect – and one that places our state and her people, first.
Im proud of the work weve done. Im proud of the progress weve made and Im confident that we can continue to move West Virginia forward, together.
Tonight, we are more than just Democrats and Republicans. We are, and will forever be, West Virginians.