Just after 7 p.m. today, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will take walk into the House of Delegates chamber and begin the third State of the State address of his career as governor. Team Charley West will be in the chamber with him, and you can follow our coverage live on this blog. (I’ll start our live-blog and webcast around 6:30 p.m.)
In the meantime, the Daily Mail has several must-read stories to prepare you for tonight’s big speech. First, our business editor George Hohmann attended the Charleston Area Alliance’s annual Issues & Eggs breakfast, held this morning at the Marriott.
Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson were the keynote speakers. As they told reporters last week at the Associated Press’s “Legislative Lookahead,” Kessler and Thompson said education reform, addressing overcrowded jails and increased funding for substance abuse programs will be the big issues during the upcoming session. From George’s story:
Kessler said, “I think you’re going to see a real concerted effort to get education reform this session. We’ve not been getting our education bang for the buck.”
“I look forward to the Governor’s speech tonight,” Thompson said. The Speaker drew laughter when he added, “The education audit cost $750,000 and he paid for it.”
Thompson said, “We’ve got to find a way to make substance abuse programs work.” He said the Legislature has to find $20 million to $25 million for substance abuse programs this session, and he thinks it can be done without raising taxes.
Yesterday, state GOP leaders unveiled their own 2013 legislative agenda. Republicans say they will mostly focus on bringing more jobs to the state, which includes cutting taxes for state businesses Dave Boucher reports:
Caucus Chairman Patrick Lane said it was “immoral” for legislators not to make changes to tax structure and regulation policy considering the current unemployment rate. The state must provide incentives for companies to come to West Virginia because the tax structure and regulations are too burdensome, Lane said.
They’re burdensome for businesses already in the state as well, and take away time that could be spent on growing a business.
The GOP would like a more “streamlined” approach to tax and regulations.
“It really doesn’t make any sense that a small business, a one-person or two-person operation that’s growing, has to have eight or 10 certificates and permits on their wall, and that they have to engage with that many government regulatory bodies,” Lane said.
Republicans say they also want to focus on reforming the state’s education system, and passing a law that would require voters to present government identification at their polling place. That raised Secretary of State Natalie Tennant’s hackles.
“The Republican Party in West Virginia wants to pass oppressive laws that make it harder for an eligible citizen to exercise their right to vote,” Tennant said in the news release. “They are proposing solutions to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Read Dave’s full story here: http://charlestondailymail.com/News/statehouse/201302120154
Dave also reports Tennant’s husband, State Sen. Erik Wells, has little hope education reforms will pass this year. Wells has long clashed with state teachers’ unions over changing the state’s education system, from implementing charter schools to loosening hiring and firing requirements for teachers. All these bills have been thwarted by the House Education Committee, which was largely dominated by teachers union members.
While there are fewer teachers union members on the committee this year, Wells said it doesn’t matter. Del. Mary Poling, D-Barbour, a retired schoolteacher and West Virginia Education Association member, remains the committee chairwoman.
“The committee makeup doesn’t matter. The chairman matters. Whoever the chairman is, of any particular committee, dictates what the agenda is going to be,” said Wells, vice chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
“So you still have a House Education Committee that still leans toward educators. And I think that’s good and bad,” he said.
You can read the full story by clicking here.
Finally, here’s my story about yesterday’s joint judiciary committee. Joe DeLong, executive director of the state’s Regional Jails Authority, told lawmakers the jail system no longer collects enough money from court fees to pay its $9 million yearly bond debt payments. State jails collected just $7.9 million in court fees last year.
That’s down significantly from 2004, when the authority brought in $13 million in court fees. DeLong said the drop began in 2007, when fee income fell to $8.7 million.
That is making the state’s bond insurers in New York nervous. DeLong said he has spent a lot of time over the last few months, both in person and over the phone, trying to assure the bond insurers that West Virginia will not default on its loans.
He said he does not know why revenue from fees has dropped.
“We know, based off of the overpopulation and overcrowding issues . . . that we certainly have more people coming through the court system now.”
The state has $62 million in bond debt for construction projects at jails. All that money is due in 2021, when the bonds are set to mature.
All right, everybody. That does it for today’s roundup. Remember to join us tonight for live coverage of Gov. Tomblin’s State of the State. See you then.