Bluefield Daily Telegraph
One would be hard pressed to chart blueprints for the future of the Mountain State and the Commonwealth based solely on the individual state of the state addresses delivered last week by West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.
For his part, McDonnell’s final State of the Commonwealth address was his last chance to defend his legacy in the shadow of a federal and state investigation and a scandal involving McDonnell’s poor decision to accept thousands of dollars worth of gifts from the former CEO of a dietary supplement maker. McDonnell has not been charged with any crime in connection with the investigations, but the controversy loomed largely over last year’s gubernatorial race and likely helped Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe capture the governor’s mansion.
But we still applaud McDonnell for his four years of service to Virginia, and were particularly pleased with his strong support for the state’s coal industry and the continued development of the Southwest Virginia corridor of the Coalfields Expressway.
We won’t have a true blueprint for the next four years of Virginia until after McAuliffe has had a couple of weeks to settle into his new job. He was sworn in as governor Saturday.
In West Virginia, Tomblin gave a good address, but one that was short on the specifics many folks in the coalfields were waiting to hear. There was no mention of removing turnpike tolls by 2019, and only a limited discussion on coal that included a conciliatory tone toward new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Tomblin asked state residents during last week’s address to remember that a challenge doesn’t always lead to confrontation. And he made reference to a face-to-face meeting last year with McCarthy.
However, despite that meeting with Tomblin and other lawmakers, McCarthy has still declined to bring the EPA so-called listening tour to the coalfields of southern West Virginia, and she has not relented on the Obama administration demand for controversial rules that would essentially prohibit the construction of new coal-fired power plants.
It is also interesting to note that when Tomblin was a candidate for governor back in 2011, he spoke of the need to remove tolls from the 88-mile turnpike during a meeting with the Daily Telegraph’s editorial board. He was quoted by this newspaper as saying, “As far as I’m concerned, when 2019 comes, if that is the magic date, the tolls should come off. It’s been a struggle for the people of southern West Virginia for all of these years to pay. That’s a promise that needs to be made eight years from now. The tolls need to come down.”
We couldn’t agree further with that statement. Unfortunately, it would appear Tomblin is now backing down from his own earlier comments. And he’s yet to publicly rebuke the preposterous recommendation from his Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, which has proposed not only a continuation of turnpike tolls past 2019, but also a turnpike toll increase.
Tomblin also is proposing a 2 percent raise in his budget for teachers and a $540 pay boost for state employees. Both would be welcomed during a healthy budget year, but the state is facing a $60 million budget deficit. That could make implementing the proposed increases difficult. Tomblin also plans to tap into the state’s healthy $918 million rainy day fund in order to move $83.8 million into the Medicaid fund.
Republicans say Tomblin gave a well-delivered speech, but argued it focused too much on what’s already been accomplished without providing enough details about what can be done and should be done to improve the Mountain State. We would agree with that assessment. We need more details — and more of a fighting spirit — when it comes to issues that are important to citizens not only in southern West Virginia, but across the Mountain State.
And back in Virginia, it is a waiting game at this point to see what folks living in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia can expect from McAuliffe. We do believe it is important for McAuliffe to reach out to and work with the Southwest Virginia counties, despite his limited campaign activity in the coalfield region last year.