On Wednesday, the governor gave his annual State of the State address. From a policy point of view, Governor Tomblin made several pronouncements regarding education, child well-being, prison reform and substance abuse that deserve high praise. However, the governor also left me scratching my head regarding his proposal to deal with the state’s budget gap of over $200 million. On the one hand, the governor is proposing across the board cuts of $75 million across 15 departments, while on the other hand he is touting tax cuts of $40 million in the upcoming year. The interesting fact is that no one in the media seemed to pick up on the fact that these tax cuts are resulting in less revenue for investments in these various programs and services.
Pushing the tax and budget cuts to the side, the governor should be commended for the commitment he made to young children in his speech, including expanding enrollment in the state’s universal Pre-K program to 100 percent in three years, shoring up the West Virginia Child Care Assistance Program and Medicaid, and working toward a birth through 5 program with the Benedum Foundation. These commitments alone could potentially help thousands of low-income families and children in the state.
The governor also deserves adulation for tackling the state’s growing prison overcrowding problem, which we documented last year in our report Stemming the Tide. He also laid out some pragmatic steps regarding education reform, including giving counties the choice to go to a balanced calendar (year-round schools), providing 3rd grade reading programs, and coordinating truancy reduction efforts.
The governor’s attention to the growing epidemic of substance abuse is also well founded. However, it will take investments and more tax revenue for treatment and other programs to make a dent in the problem.
Two large holes in the governor’s State of the State were whether the state will join other governors by implementing Medicaid expansion and how the state plans to deal with declining coal production in the southern part of the state. As we’ve noted before, enacting Medicaid expansion is a great deal for the state -it will save the state money, create jobs, and provide health care coverage to over 100,000 low-income West Virginians.
West Virginia needs to invest in transitioning our economy by ensuring that we use our rich natural resources to create sustainable wealth that is reinvested in our people. Creating a Future Fund would go along way to ensuring that we do not repeat the past and that we build wealth that stays in our communities and creates jobs.
Overall, the governor has laid out a positive and ambitious agenda for the upcoming legislative session. It provides a good foundation for moving forward to helping vulnerable children and parents who are struggling to just get by.
Here is the full text of Governor Tomblin’s State of the State.
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