On Wednesday, I delivered the annual State of the State Address. I presented the budget and announced a number of legislative proposals. While we have a lot of work ahead of us, I’m very excited about the opportunities the upcoming legislative session holds for our state.
This time last year, it was projected West Virginia would have a $400 million budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year. I asked each state agency to do more with less and they did. I’m proud to say, the budget I presented is balanced — with no new taxes or cuts to education or public safety programs.
As you know, I’m from Chapmanville in Logan County, a coal town where hard work and long hours provides many families with good incomes. My parents saw to it that I received a great education in high school and at West Virginia University and Marshall. I was the first person in my family to receive a college degree. And I believe every child in West Virginia deserves this same opportunity — the opportunity for a bright future. That is why I presented a number of proposals to improve our state’s education system.
I asked the Legislature, as well as the State Board of Education, to consider a number of key changes. I’d like to see all elementary school teachers receive the training they need to help our children become great readers because statistics show reading is critical for success. I asked the Legislature to give more flexibility to local school boards; they need the flexibility to tailor programs to the needs of their students. I also asked for a number of changes to make sure that technology is integrated into curriculum and that our students have access to counseling from our community and technical colleges.
All of the proposals I made had one thing in common: they all focus on what’s best for our kids.
It’s no secret that West Virginia’s correctional system is overextended, and I’m working to help lessen that burden. Statistics now show the number of people in our prisons is increasing at three times the national average. Last year, I brought together my colleagues in the Legislature, as well as judges, prosecutors, state and local leaders and research professionals as part of an effort to find a solution for our outdated and overcrowded prison system. The Council of State Governments has succeeded in increasing public safety and reducing recidivism in states like Texas, Pennsylvania and Ohio so I asked them to help me construct a plan keeping public safety as our number one priority. What we learned was simple: substance abuse is the root cause of prison overcrowding, and the high re-offending rate intensifies the problem. I’m presenting a plan to the Legislature to address these challenges. I believe we must take action, now, to ensure we increase public safety and reduce habitual offenders.
During my Address, I also introduced a new initiative — an initiative to make sure West Virginia has a drug-free work force. Building a work force that is not only educated, but clean and sober is very important. Beginning this week, West Virginia will carry the message, “If you get high, you won’t get hired.” I’ve set up a website: faceyourfuturewv.com. The website has resources for folks needing help, drug-free West Virginians looking for work, and employers who are looking for drug-free workers. I’m very excited about this new program, and I hope you will join me in this effort to ensure West Virginia has a drug-free work force.
We’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years, and I’m looking forward to working with the 81st Legislature to make West Virginia an even greater place — today and long into the future.
— Earl Ray Tomblin is governor of West Virginia