Reaction to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s annual state of the state address was largely positive last week at the state capitol.
Still, as is often the case, the governor’s assessment of where the state stands and where it is going caused some serious discussions in the capitol hallways.
More than anything else, legislators, their staffs and lobbyists often express more concern about the governor’s proposed budget than his formal speech presentation.
Budget concerns ran strong again this year with many focusing on the tight state of finances, as outlined by Tomblin, in questioning some of his comprehensive educational proposals.
“In a lot of cases, the governor spoke in generalities but the devil is in the detail,” said one Republican member of the house of delegates. “It’s great for all of us to say we’re for better education for our young people. It’s a different issue when we try to figure out how to pay for it.”
While debates about education reform are more in the abstract at the moment, several concrete issues have cropped up among those giving an early look at the budget.
Volunteer firemen, including some from Boone County, were on hand for Tomblin’s speech. Hours earlier, a spokesman for the group pointed out that Tomblin had removed any projected funding to cover workers’ compensation premiums.
Nearly three years ago, there was a huge outcry from volunteer fire departments around the state when their workers’ comp premiums increased dramatically due to a change in state law. Since then, the governor and legislature have made $2.5 million available each year to offset the costs for the local fire departments.
This year, however, Tomblin did not include any funding for the department workers’ comp premiums. Many volunteer leaders suggested three years ago that, without state help, they would be forced to close their doors.
“We really just need to make sure everyone understands the benefits of having these local fire departments,” said Alum Creek Fire Chief Jim Oldaker. Oldaker and others pointed out that the presence of volunteer fire departments often result in lower insurance rates and higher property values.
Firefighters will converge on the capitol, March 1, to make their case to lawmakers.
Another group concerned with the governor’s budget proposal is the West Virginia Primary Care Association. Legislators aligned with the group were passing out information last week regarding the number of clinics they say will be effected by the governor’s decision to remove any funding for mortgages.
Several Republican legislators claimed the governor’s budget might cause some rural clinics to go out of business as well. By the end of the week, however, many legislators were saying the primary care facilities have “effectively become PPOs unto themselves and they make profits. As such the state cannot pay their mortgages.
Clinics that would potentially be affected include Cabin Creek Health Systems in Kanawha County; FamilyCare Health Center in Teays Valley; Lincoln Primary Care in Hamlin; Tug River Health Association in Gary; Valley Health Service of Huntington; and the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia in Charleston.
With this year’s legislature scheduled to be in regular session for just 60 days, a great deal of consideration will be taking place rather quickly. It is almost a certainty that the budget will be adjusted and will not be approved as initially submitted.