Lawmakers’ reaction mixed for Tomblin address

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By Joel Ebert, Daily Mail

As is the case with every year, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin received a variety of praise and criticism from members of his own party, as well as the new majority party, following Wednesday’s State of the State Address.Republican leaders were pleased to hear the governor’s call to push back against regulations being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

”The EPA is way, way too deep in the business and the future of our state. We’re going to push back at every opportunity that we can,” said Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer. Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, agreed with Cole, saying the governor’s comments it made clear there were areas of overlap between Republicans and Democrats, including in one area the new majority party has said it will focus on: jobs.

“Our emphasis is going to be putting people back to work in West Virginia and so I’m very interested in talking with him and seeing what he has in mind,” Armstead said, while expressing delight after hearing the governor talk about workforce development.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, applauded the governor for taking positive steps to improve the “drug situation” in the state.

But as to be expected, the Republican leaders disagreed with certain aspects of Tomblin’s address.

Carmichael, the new Majority Leader, disagreed with Tomblin’s assessment of the report that called the state a “judicial hellhole.” “We need to address the substantive issues that create those poor rankings,” he said.

Reacting to Tomblin’s statement that the state has a business-friendly climate, Armstead said, “Have we taken some steps, yes. But states around us are taking much more bold steps and in many cases there are policies that are job killers.” “The governor’s right to talk about it but we have a lot of work to do.” Cole said, agreeing with Armstead.

Carmichael also said he also disagreed with the governor’s call to continue the state’s toll collections, which earn the state upwards of $85 million a year. Carmichael said he did not disagree with the fact that the majority — 84 percent — of all tolls collected on the West Virginia Turnpike come from out-of-state drivers and commercial vehicle.

“However, the people of southern West Virginia have paid these tolls for a long time. We need to lessen the impact,” he said. In addition to the Republicans, others offered criticism following the governor’s speech.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he was disappointed that Tomblin didn’t mention the commitment that was made last year to increase teacher’s salaries by 2019. “We will work with the legislature and the governor’s office to do a commitment of that goal to see what we can come up with,” he said.

Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, was among a small group of organizers standing outside the House chambers holding signs in opposition to mountaintop removal efforts. Haltom said he was disappointed to hear the governor did not once mention the water crisis that plagued the Kanawha Valley area last year. “How soon we forget,” he said. “It’s time to put people’s lives ahead of industry profits.

”Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the speech wasn’t overly aggressive because Tomblin understand he now must work with the Republican majority. The former Senate president said he was excited to hear about the governor’s decision to put more money towards battling substance abuse but he would’ve like to heard about additional funds for the addressing state’s roads and promoting tourism. “I’m a little disappointed it wasn’t a little more ambitious or had bold initiatives,” Kessler said. But he noted that he understood it given the budget constraints the state is under.

Despite the many criticisms, former House speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, praised the governor for highlighting the state’s successes and accomplishments.

“People, especially the new majority party, never want to give credit where credit is due.

”Miley said Republicans’ criticism of the business climate of the state is inaccurate. “Businesses are flocking to the northern part of the state. If it was so bad to do business in West Virginia why would a multi-billion dollar cracker plant be coming to West Virginia,” he asked.

In the end, it was clear to members of both sides of the aisle that Gov. Tomblin is more interested in bipartisan than bickering. “The governor realizes its a new day in the West Virginia legislature,” said U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. “From what I can tell the House and Senate are going to get off to a running start.”