By PHIL KABLER
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gives his farewell address to a joint session of the West Virginia Legislature this afternoon, he will be reflecting on not only the past 6½ years as governor, but 42 years in state government.
“It’s going to be strange, no doubt about it,” he said Tuesday. “Ever since I left Morgantown, I’ve spent the first quarter of the year in Charleston, being involved in the process.”
Tomblin was referring to his election to the House of Delegates in 1974, while a senior at West Virginia University. Six years later, he was elected to the Senate, where he served as Finance chairman and went on to become the longest-serving Senate president in state history, before circumstances brought him to the Governor’s Office in 2010.
Tomblin also will present his version of the 2017-18 state budget today — a plan that, unlike those discussed by legislative leadership or the incoming governor, will propose tax increases to close a $400 million budget deficit.
“Over the last four years, we’ve made over $400 million in cuts, and swept basically every account we could, wiped out the TRAFFIC account, and dug deeper into the Rainy Day Fund than I would have liked,” said Tomblin, adding, “I just don’t know how you go any further.”
Tomblin said he believes the state economy is making a slow recovery from the latest recession, but that, in the short-term, additional tax revenue will be needed.
“That’s the reason the Legislature has the power to enact taxes and revenues, as needed, to provide efficient services to the people of the state,” he said. “Just because you can raise them doesn’t mean they’re going to stay on forever.”
Tomblin said his 30-minute address to the Legislature will be more of a “victory lap,” highlighting accomplishments of his tenure as governor, including:
Economic development efforts, including such big-ticket items as Gestamp and Procter & Gamble manufacturing plants, the Macy’s fulfillment center, as well as efforts to develop the former Hobet surface mine site into the largest business and economic development complex in the state.
Workforce training programs, including the Workforce Planning Council and Workforce West Virginia.
Efforts to fight substance abuse, including funding that doubled the number of drug treatment and recovery services in the state, along with the establishment of a 24-hour substance abuse hotline.
Justice Reinvestment Act. Tomblin oversaw legislation in 2013 intended to curb state incarceration rates by emphasizing community corrections and drug courts, and streamlining probation and parole for nonviolent offenders.
Disaster recovery. Tomblin noted that he got through his first year as governor with no major natural disasters but, from the derecho storm in 2012 to the thousand-year flood that hit southeastern West Virginia last June, dealt with a series of natural and man-made disasters.
Over time, he said, the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the National Guard, the Department of Health and Human Resources, and other state agencies worked together to improve the state’s emergency response efforts.
“If you’re prepared, you can best respond to any type of disaster,” Tomblin said.
Also Tuesday, Revenue officials said December tax collections showed signs that the state’s economy is slowly improving.
December’s collection of $329.8 million was $6.7 million, or about 1.6 percent, below estimates.
The two major components of state tax revenue, consumer sales taxes and personal income taxes, exceeded December 2015 collections.
Payroll withholding taxes, which had been running 1 percent below estimates for the first three months of the 2016-17 budget year, have closed to 0.1 percent below estimates for the past three months, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said.
After imposing 2 percent mid-year budget cuts in November, Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said December tax collections are close enough that additional adjustments won’t be necessary.
“We believe the remedy put in place about a month ago for the fiscal 2017 shortfall is adequate,” he said during a monthly budget briefing.
As for the governor, with whom he worked as House Finance chairman and as speaker of the House, Kiss said, “I think time will show he was the most fiscally responsible governor we’ve ever had.”
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