Gov. Tomblin proposes modest pay increases - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Gov. Tomblin proposes modest pay increases in State of the State address

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With the House chamber full, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin delivered the State of the State address to an expectant crowd that consisted of the Senate President, Speaker of the House, members of the Legislature, Board of Public Works members, Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals, State Board of Education members, distinguished guests and other West Virginians.

During Tomblin's address, audience members greeted many of his comments with applause. 

Those in attendance applauded the introduction of Robert Moorehead and Michael Powell, both West Virginia University engineering graduates who were hired by the Italian company Peitro Florentini to help run its West Virginia operations.

"These two young men are living examples of why we made our trip … and why we make job opportunities our highest priority," Tomblin said.

Other comments that elicited responses were those calling for fiscal responsibility and keeping resources in the Mountain State rather than "being piped elsewhere," as well as job growth and plans to dissolve many boards, commissions and councils that are creating "ambiguity and clutter" this session.

Tomblin's commitment to "funding a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and school service personnel who invest in our children every day" and a "modest pay increase for our state employees — who have been asked to do more with less" also generated an enthusiastic response.

The pay raises in Tomblin's budget for both groups total $41 million.

"In a tough financial year I'm proud that he made education a priority and that there's something there," Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association president, said immediately following the speech. "I would hope that we would continue to look at this as a multi-year plan and know that this is a problem that can't be solved with a one time 2 percent and then forget about it. That's why we're in this position we're in now. 

"I am pleased that in this tough fiscal year he included some things. There are some things we have to do to make education successful for every student in West Virginia. I'm proud he talked about the need to have a high quality teacher in front of every child. We have to have pay to insure that teachers are here and that teachers want to stay here."

Christine Campbell, president of American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, also applauded Tomblin's dedication to improving education.

"Despite a tight budget year, Governor Tomblin has committed substantial resources, including a salary increase, to our education system to help attract and retain highly qualified teachers," she said. "Our governor understand he future of West Virginia depends on a high quality school system that includes all stakeholders, teachers, parents, students and the community."

The more than $920 million saved in the Rainy Day fund was another statement that elicited enthusiastic clapping from those in attendance. Tomblin did not mention many of the details that were in the budget he'll present lawmakers, but he touched on the tight budget the Mountain State is expected to experience.

According to a briefing from the state budget office on what the governor is proposing in his budget for lawmakers, the governor's budget is based on an expected shortfall of $265 million in general revenue collections. To make up for this, Tomblin is proposing cuts in some funding in addition to a one-time infusion of $148,727,000 from reserves in what Bob Kiss, Cabinet Secretary West Virginia Department of Revenue, calls "revenue stabilization." The $148.7 million includes $83.83 million from the state's Rainy Day fund. 

This would be the first time the rainy day fund has been accessed for revenue stabilization, Kiss said.

Kiss also said no services or programs are being eliminated through the budget cuts. However, some department or agency heads may decide to eliminate some programs or services as they deal with diminished resources, he said.

According to Kiss, the governor's proposed budget includes a 3.75 percent reduction for higher education. The governor did not want to impose a steeper cut for fear it would have too great an impact on tuition. Kiss said all retirement contributions are funded, and no layoffs or furloughs are planned.

Even if the Fiscal Year 2015 budget is balanced, the Fiscal Year 2016 budget will have a $216.3 million general revenue shortfall, but that is more manageable than $265 million, Kiss said.

Reaction came quickly from lawmakers and special interest groups.

Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, said he believes one way to ensure West Virginia's future will be through giving teachers and school service personnel pay increases. He also brought up the need for a future fund, as presented by Senate President Jeff Kessler before the start of the 2014 Legislative session. Tomblin did not mention a future fund in his speech.

Fitzsimmons was also concerned with two initiatives for his area of Wheeling. The senator said he hopes to back a Highlands bill that was not passed last year but would add 200 acres for another interchange in that area of Wheeling and he alluded to a new bill based on purchasing American-made goods.

"That's our way to ensure the middle class will survive in the future," he said.

Fitzsimmons said he thought Tomblin's analogy of a garden throughout his speech was appropriate.

"The great thing about the garden analogy is of course the fruits are always at the end and I think that the best days of West Virginia are ahead too."

Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he is curious how the governor intends on giving pay increase while facing a budget shortfall.

"I'm all for giving people raises if we can afford them by balancing the budget," Cann said. "We're facing a shortfall in this current year and while we're here we'll have to focus on that."

West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy Executive Director Ted Boettner said after the speech the state budget is the most important bill passed each year, but Tomblin shared few details about how he plans to deal with the revenue.

"Instead of continuing to cut taxes that mostly benefit large, out-of-state companies that have put a large hole in our budget, we need to invest in ways to really create jobs, like education, infrastructure, innovation, workforce development and our state's colleges and universities," Boettner said. "Big hikes in tuition will not only make it harder to attend college, but will pile unnecessary debt on the backs of our future workforce."

Tomblin also mentioned a caregiver registry, and care giving for West Virginia's aging population is an issue AARP has been focused on for several sessions.

Get the full text of Gov. Tomblin's 2014 State of the State address here