West Virginia State of the State Address 2002

Following is the full text of Gov. Bob Wise's annual State of the State Address, delivered on Jan. 9.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Board of Public Works, Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Members of the Legislature, Distinguished Guests, and My Fellow West Virginians:

Before I begin, I would like to recognize three special guests who are in the Chamber tonight. Senior Airman Jeremy Callen, representing the 130th airlift wing; Chief Master Sergeant Robert Chandler, representing the 167th airlift wing, the highest ranking enlisted member in the West Virginia Air National Guard; and Sergeant First Class Benjamin Gentry, representing three units -- the 157th Military Police Company, the 2nd Battalion--19th Special Forces Group and the 229th Engineer Detachment. They are bearing the colors of the three West Virginia National Guard units that have been activated in support of the war against terrorism. Another unit of the 229th Engineer Detachment based in Kingwood will report this weekend for an assignment of unknown length.

After this evening's address, these colors will be posted in the Governor's Reception Room as a daily reminder to all of us that our work continues under the protection of these brave men and women.

Thank you! Our freedom - the freedom we enjoy as Americans - is paid for by your courage.

West Virginians and all Americans have been tested in the past year like never before. West Virginians have always risen to the challenge, and this year was no different. With the help of God and the commitment and determination of the people of this great state, we met the tests that were placed in our path.

  • We were tested by flood waters;
  • We were tested by terrorism;
  • We were tested by fire;
  • By the dumping of steel;
  • By out-of-control illegal gambling;
  • By huge increases in prescription drug costs; and
  • By the collapse of the medical malpractice insurance system.

    But by working together, this legislature met these tests.

    This Legislature has risen to the challenge. Through regular and special sessions, you resolutely acted on behalf of the people of West Virginia. This state is much better because of your efforts, and we thank you.

    We have been tested - and yet we continued to move West Virginia forward to make this state a better place to live.

    Our time of testing is not over.

  • We will face difficult choices because of budgetary shortages. The national economy is in recession. Our nation is at war. We believe at least 40 states will not meet their budget estimates this year. Because we budgeted conservatively, West Virginia's budget is on target, but we are still facing very tough times. Our rate of growth has been cut in half. More than ever before, we need sound fiscal management and innovative policies to avert financial hardship.

    The budget I'm presenting tonight is balanced, invests in our future, contains some tax relief and does not raise any taxes.
  • We will face new hurdles in providing our children with the education they deserve;
  • We will face new threats to our security and safety; and
  • We will face new challenges in providing health care for all West Virginians.

    These are the tests that are thrust in front of us that can divert us from our determined path. But the ultimate test is yet before us - the test that truly measures us - and that is the test of whether we have the courage to do what is necessary to make us what we desperately want to be.

    You and I want the same - to create good-paying jobs; to have an educational system second to none; to know we can get good health care; to be safe in our schools, our churches, our homes and our workplaces; and, above all, to bring our children and neighbors home from wherever they live outside our state.

    Keep this vision in mind because what I'm going to ask you tonight will require new approaches; it will take sacrifice. We must be willing to invest, and we must be willing to think innovatively.

    And above all, we must remember that saying, "If we keep on doing what we've been doing, we're going to keep on getting what we've got."

    Friends - we can get a lot more.

    We have much to do. But the first priority of government must be to protect the public safety. I want to recognize tonight the tremendous efforts of our firefighters, law enforcement, emergency workers and National Guard - all those people who protect us. But they can't do it alone.

    My budget will begin funding new classes of state police. Many counties are without State Police coverage. They need - and we need - more troopers to provide for the safety of 1.8 million people.

    Our police put their lives at risk for us each day. Just last Saturday night, I had the privilege of riding a shift with West Virginia state troopers as they patrolled in southern West Virginia. These men and women give so much to us - it's time we give something back to them.

    In addition to addressing the manpower shortage in the State Police, I have presented a bill tonight that assures that equal benefits are paid to survivors of State Police officers killed in the line of duty.

    This is only the first step. I am committed to doing more for our state troopers.

    The National Guard has been outstanding with their service over the past year.

    The men and women who serve us and keep us safe also are important members of our families, our communities, our businesses and our churches across this state. As we salute those who have been called to active duty, let us also honor and remember their families. This Legislature took action last year to preserve benefits for those families, and for that I thank you.

    I'd also like you to welcome, and I have been asked for security reasons only to give her first name, Patricia, whose husband is on active duty with the National Guard. Their daughter, MacKenzie, and his mother, Susan, represent the hundreds of families who pray with us for the safe return of a service member. Patricia, MacKenzie and Susan - please stand and let us recognize you and all the National Guard families.

    I also thank the employers across the state who saw key members of their businesses called away over and over to fight the floods, the fires and now to fight the terrorist attacks on the United States. These employers make it possible for our citizen soldiers to defend our communities and our nation.

    The National Guard is critical to the safety and security of our people, which is why my budget will also include building the new armories and other National Guard facilities so necessary across West Virginia.

    From the horrors of September 11, we have all asked - what can I do to help? That's why we're forming West Virginia Watch-a volunteer organization of citizens who will assist law enforcement officials in safeguarding our people, our transportation, our industrial facilities and our natural resources. Now we can all pitch in to help.

    Last year, we came together to begin the process of changing our economy. That task is even more urgent today as we face a national recession and the threat of more plant closings and job losses.

    I know that a lot of West Virginia families are struggling to make ends meet. We can help them by giving them a break on one large annual expense. Every year, families across West Virginia scrape together money to pay for back-to-school shopping trips. Tonight, I am submitting legislation to provide a Sales Tax Holiday on school supplies and clothing for three days before kids go back to school in August. This will provide badly needed relief for our families and send a signal that we not only hear you - we are here to help.

    But the biggest help for any family is a good-paying job. We need to continue our focus on long-term strategies to attract and keep good jobs in West Virginia.

    This year, I have asked Paul Arbogast, the chairman of the Business Roundtable, and Jim Bowen, the president of the AFL-CIO, to work together to help us identify and resolve the issues that hold West Virginia back. They have agreed. This effort will benefit both business and labor, and all of us, as we compete in the global marketplace.

    The new climate in West Virginia has not gone unnoticed. We have attracted new investment and interest.

    One business leader brought a totally new type of enterprise to West Virginia. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, an international law firm based in San Francisco, needed a global operations center. Ralph Baxter, Jr., the chairman and CEO, searched the country for an appropriate site, and he found it in his native state of West Virginia. What he found in West Virginia was the ideal combination of hard-working, skilled people and resources to accomplish his mission. His company is investing $10 million to create 250 high-paying jobs. Please join me in welcoming home a native son and his wife Cheryl, and thank him for believing in West Virginia's future.

    Ralph has agreed to head a new group called the Governor's Ambassador Council, made up of business leaders like Ralph from across the nation who have strong connections to West Virginia. This council will advise the state on strategic issues, make sure that our strengths are known to business decision makers and give us objective external reviews of our business policies.

    We'll also look to this council to help develop a plan to encourage talented young people to stay in West Virginia or move here from other states.

    Over and over, mothers and fathers tell me that their hearts ache whenever a young person senses that his or her hometown has limited opportunity and they must move away to seek success. Tight-knit families are pulled apart. Children and grandchildren slip away from the nurturing communities that make West Virginia such a special place to live.

    I want to bring these people home, and keep our children here.

    Let me tell you about one success story where three young West Virginia natives, with the help of the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust, started a software company, Threewide.com. They're earning rave reviews - and customers - with their new software for real estate transactions.

    But many of their classmates have left. We have to change that.

    In the 1860s the federal government encouraged homesteading by offering land to people to locate in a certain area. The times have changed, but not the concept. As we recruit businesses, let us recruit our people as well.

    We can start right now.

  • We can begin by providing a tax credit that helps people pay off student loans so that new graduates will be encouraged to stay, or to move here.
  • We must welcome new families with open arms - not punish them with unexpected fees. This year, we must finally eliminate the expensive transfer fee on personal vehicles brought to West Virginia by new residents.
  • Incentives alone won't bring people back. What will bring them back is a vibrant economy, a place where private investors are willing to take risks and create jobs. It's time to take some strategic steps that will start the process
  • In the budget, I have included $3 million for the Sunny Day Fund to give us the financial flexibility to attract new businesses and create new jobs. Our neighboring states already have this. To be competitive, we need it too.
  • We must draw in venture capital to encourage entrepreneurship and create jobs. At my direction, the West Virginia Investment Management Board is ready to move forward with a $25 million plan that will attract 75 million more dollars in federal funds for a total of $100 million in new investment capability for businesses in West Virginia.
  • I am directing the West Virginia Development Office to create a Small Business Ombudsman to assist any small business that wants to stay, wants to grow and wants to take advantage of the opportunities West Virginia offers.
  • We also must support communities that take bold steps to reinvent their economies. We're going to support the Wheeling Victorian Outlet Center, a public-private partnership that will result in the renovation and rehabilitation of more than 100 historic buildings in the heart of the city of Wheeling, and the creation of a new shopping destination that will generate hundreds of jobs.
  • We must help working people adapt to change. We're already offering workforce training to 1,000 current employees of businesses that believe they can profit from a better-educated workforce. And, because we've streamlined our bureaucracy and developed a new workforce investment plan, I am announcing tonight that the U.S. Department of Labor has selected West Virginia to participate in a pilot project that will be a model for other states.
  • Additionally, we must join the 46 states that allow local governments to attract private investment in their communities through tax increment financing. It's a simple idea: for a limited time, pledge the additional local taxes that arise from new development toward the investments that make that growth possible. Working with business and labor, we'll have a new way to create jobs.

    A year ago, I promised a top-to-bottom review of the various tax incentives that have been developed for business over the past several decades. This first-ever review is complete.

    We must eliminate 11 tax credit programs that have been ineffective, including the "Super Credit," an accountant's "super" nightmare with a 16-page application form and a minimum requirement of 50 jobs that shut the door on small business.

    Tonight, I am asking you to replace the unproductive incentives with four new tax credits for: economic opportunity, manufacturing, electric generation and research and development. We will make these programs simpler and easier for businesses to use and more accessible to small employers who are the backbone of many communities.

    Pass my legislation and we replace this 16-page application with this new one-page form.

    We have never had a serious effort in West Virginia to encourage research and development. This, too, must change. In addition to our new tax credit for research, I propose a sales tax exemption for research and development activity. This will instantly cut the material costs of West Virginia researchers by 6 percent.

    I also am pleased to report tonight that this budget will provide funding to match a $9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to support biomolecular science and information technology research efforts at Marshall University and West Virginia University.

    We will also increase the higher education research budget by 250 percent.

    But the real result of all this investment comes when private enterprise enters the picture.

    I am pleased to announce tonight that the Verizon Corporation has committed $200,000 toward biometrics research and development in West Virginia.

    In addition, a new biotechnology company, Protea, has been established to take advantage of the expertise of West Virginia University researchers. It is already creating jobs and creating a buzz in the biotech world that the next great center of growth for this industry may very well be in West Virginia.

    This enterprise, because of the vision and entrepreneurship of the people who formed it, is leading West Virginia into a whole new area of high-paying jobs.

    But that's not what is most important about what it does. This company will take ideas out of the laboratory and convert them to products that significantly improve peoples' lives. West Virginia is going to give the world new treatments for cancer and other diseases, based on scientific developments at our universities. Please welcome Steve Turner, the man behind Protea, and the leader of West Virginia's biotech revolution.

    After last year's devastating floods, many businesspeople across southern West Virginia were pondering their futures. Could they...should they...rebuild? Was there a future for small business there?

    In Mullens, I visited the flower shop run by Lynna Jo Bowling. It was a mess - totally wiped out, but she was determined to rebuild. But she felt, as so many other businesspeople did - that she could not pile more debt upon what she already owed.

    Working together, we created new tools for hardworking businesspeople like Lynna Jo. Our forgivable loan program, our microloan program, and our decision to release state surplus furniture to flood-stricken businesses helped dozens of enterprises get their doors open again. They took those tools and made them work with their determination and spirit.

    Today, that flower shop is back in business. I know - I did much of my Christmas shopping there and in several other businesses in Mullens. Mrs. Bowling, your courage in reopening that store is making Mullens a vibrant town again and is an inspiration to our state. Please stand and take the recognition you so richly deserve - as you speak for so many southern West Virginians.

    Because of the resilience and perseverance of our people - Lynna Jo's story is being repeated in town after town. On behalf of Lynna Jo and those like her, I want to thank the Legislature for having the confidence to commit $43 million in funds toward rebuilding housing and small businesses. That investment is beginning to pay off.

    We are at an important juncture in the future of southern West Virginia. We must set a new course for the region that builds on the strength of its natural resources and plans for a new economy. To chart this course, I am announcing the creation of the West Virginia Recovery and Investment Strategy Enterprise - West Virginia RISE.

    West Virginia RISE will tie together the existing infrastructure with future investments throughout the region by both the public and private sectors. It will address housing, economic development, infrastructure and land use planning, and will incorporate the ongoing work of the regional task force already addressing long-term flood prevention.

    By the next State of the State Address, West Virginia RISE will provide this body and citizens of southern West Virginia with a road map to a much brighter future.

    And while we expand into new economic areas, we must maintain our strong base of mining and manufacturing. West Virginia is a world leader in energy supplies and creates raw materials for construction and industry across the nation.

    Last year, this Legislature approved $1 million in funding to assist our steel industry in adopting new technology and developing new products. Our commitment to the steel industry spoke loudly in Washington - as did the unanimous support of labor, management and community leaders - in spurring the federal government to take action against steel dumping.

    Just a few weeks ago, I traveled to Washington to make the case for steel personally to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

    In the coming year, we will intensify our commitment to American steel. We will continue to invest in modernizing this industry and making it competitive.

    We remain committed as well to a thriving energy industry.

    Our state Energy Task Force is developing a statewide energy plan to provide a direction for research, for policy, for environmental protection and for new production techniques.

    We took great strides in the past year toward responsible environmental protection. A vast majority of West Virginians have reached the realization that none of our dreams - a clean environment, a healthy economy, a place where our children will want to live - is possible without working together.

    One thing we cannot allow to continue, however, is the dreadful human cost of coal mining. Thirteen times last year, and once already this year, a family lost a father, or a brother or a son mining coal in West Virginia.

    This budget contains an additional $1 million - a 25 percent increase - to strengthen the state's coal mine safety agency. These funds will improve our ability to work with coal miners to improve safety and training and our ability to effectively inspect and enforce safety standards. This is long overdue.

    I am also introducing a bill that will change the penalty system. No longer will serious violations be less expensive than a parking ticket.

    Stewardship of the land is one of our responsibilities as citizens and as leaders of government.

    One of our goals must be the protection of the special places held dear by our citizens. For generations, we have enjoyed the beauty of the Blackwater Canyon.

    Earlier today, the president of Allegheny Power, Jay Pifer, signed an agreement to sell 250 acres in the Blackwater Canyon to the state of West Virginia and donate an adjacent 250 acres. The land includes the last mile of unprotected river between the town of Davis and the Blackwater Canyon. We have permanently guaranteed public access to this land for recreation.

    I would like to extend my personal thanks to Mr. Pifer and ask that you join me in recognizing him and his company for their efforts.

    As we develop a more diversified economy, we also must welcome new people and new ideas to West Virginia.

    In 2001, for the first time, the number of trips visitors made to West Virginia topped 21 million. We hosted the World Rafting Championships this year, created a Motorsports Council and developed a new tourism database and Website that is helping thousands of people find the exact vacation experience they are seeking, right here in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

    Transportation is vital not just to tourism, but to all types of economic activity.

    We're developing the infrastructure to serve more tourists and business travelers all over West Virginia. We will spend $575 million in state and federal funds to build new roads and upgrade existing roads throughout the state. We're going to finish building Corridor H and continue building Corridor D, the Coalfields Expressway and the King Coal Highway, Route 9, W.Va. Route 10, W.Va. Route 2 and U.S. Route 35.

    Two weeks ago, I visited Senator Byrd and the congressional delegation and ensured them that we are committed to providing matching money for every dollar of federal highway funds they so ably sent this way.

    But the most important thing we do is to make sure we give our kids the best education they can receive.

    Education is economic development.

    Our schools are improving every day. I visited with hundreds of students and teachers in the past year. We have some inspired kids out there and some very inspiring teachers. Our school service personnel work hard. Our students are scoring better than ever before on standardized tests, contributing to their communities and preparing themselves for college, for vocational training, and for life.

    Thanks to this Legislature, our top high school seniors are filling out applications for the first set of PROMISE Scholarships. I want to remind parents, students and teachers that the deadline for filing a PROMISE application with a high-school guidance counselor is January 31. If you work hard, play by the rules and are a qualified student, you will earn a PROMISE Scholarship to any West Virginia institution of higher education - public or private - two year or four year.

    We're building new state-of-the-art schools for communities across West Virginia. We're also making sure schools are safe, including operating a 24-hour-a-day toll-free safety helpline. And every county now has a mandate to provide character education that -- besides teaching the three Rs -- teaches two more...respect and responsibility.

    Preparation for learning starts at the earliest ages. That's a lesson my wife Sandy and I learned when we became parents. She's been traveling the state, talking with new parents about the importance of reading to their children with the Love to Learn program.

    Early learning is critical, and that is why this budget will include funds to advance the Educare Program to coordinate and promote pre-school activities for 4 year olds.

    One area where our schools are behind other states is in the amount of time students actually spend in the classroom. I am proposing that all students spend 180 days each year in the classroom. Not all counties meet this minimum standard - this must change.

    We can't teach our kids if they are not in the classroom.

    Our college-going rate is higher than ever before, but still less than the nation as a whole. One way to reverse this is to get students to begin thinking about college earlier so they get the preparation they need. Former Governor Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, has asked West Virginia to join with three other states in a model program to encourage public school students to start thinking about college in the seventh grade. We will fund this worthwhile effort.

    Last year, 31 additional West Virginia teachers earned National Board Certification, the teaching profession's highest credential, doubling the number of nationally certified teachers in the state. This Legislature deserves credit for providing additional incentives for teachers to meet this high standard.

    And our business community recognizes the value of good teachers. That's why this year's teacher of the year, Jeanne Gren, of Woodburn Elementary in Monongalia County, will drive away tonight with a brand-new Toyota, thanks to Toyota Motors, and $5,000 from Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield. Jeanne, will you please stand as we thank you and all our educators for the difference you are making in our children's lives.

    In a time of national recession and in time of war, our state budget simply cannot be stretched to accommodate what our teachers truly deserve. But thanks to the efforts of all state agencies in restraining costs, we have been able to provide a pay raise and a change in the longevity schedule that will raise teacher pay this year by an average of $1,200.

    This builds on the progress we began last year when we added $1,000 to teachers' salaries and five years to the longevity schedule to encourage our most experienced teachers to remain in the classroom.

    Our higher education system is also faced with new opportunities and challenges. The number of students increased by 3 percent, and more than 78,000 West Virginians are now earning college credit at our public colleges and universities.

    We are challenging our post secondary institutions to provide these students with a better education. We're coordinating policies among all levels of education to assure better-prepared students. We are introducing legislation to partner with the private sector to attract and keep outstanding faculty. And we are demanding higher standards and measurable achievements from both students and educators.

    This year, we must strengthen our community college system and better define its role:

  • We must stabilize their budgets, limit tuition increases and provide free or reduced community college tuition to people working to get off the welfare rolls -- and my proposals will do just that.
  • Our colleges must expand educational opportunities at nontraditional locations. We'll begin that process right now - right here. I am announcing tonight that we will hold classes here at the State Capitol - and elsewhere - to enhance the career ladder for working people.

    Working together - we've done a lot for the health of our people this year.

    We've told thousands of parents about the Children's Health Insurance Program - CHIP - on TV, on radio and on the Internet. Hundreds of volunteers went door-to-door with me to spread the word. We found 10,000 more children who qualified for CHIP or Medicaid. Our goal, along with that of Senator Rockefeller who led the fight for CHIP in Washington, is to make sure every child in West Virginia has access to health care.

    The prescription drug benefit now available with the Golden Mountaineer Discount Card has saved a half-million dollars in the first three months for senior citizens ... an average of 17 percent.

    This is one of the most successful drug discount programs in the nation. We have 300 participating pharmacies where you can get an instant discount.

    And while I have your attention. If you are age 60 or over and have not received your free Golden Mountaineer Discount Card in the mail, I urge you to call the Bureau of Senior Services. You may well be eligible for reductions in the price you pay for prescription drugs.

    West Virginia is leading other states, as well, in seeking to reduce costs for medicine purchased by state agencies, such as the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Our multistate buying pool is well on the way to completion and has drawn interest from small and large states.

    We have made progress, but we must make some changes if we are to help West Virginians be as healthy as they can be:

  • We will begin a bold new advertising campaign, created with the help of young people, to combat the tobacco industry's efforts to attract more youthful users;
  • To assure that we will have the funds in future years to meet the health care needs of West Virginians, I will introduce legislation to go into the financial marketplace to lock in benefits from the tobacco lawsuits;
  • For our veterans - within the next 30 days we will issue a request for proposal for the construction of the urgently needed new West Virginia veterans' nursing home;
  • I will introduce legislation to reduce the blood alcohol limit to .08 so that we can remove impaired drivers from the road; and
  • I will introduce legislation so that people who are stricken with mental illness are provided the same health coverage as people with physical illnesses or injuries.

    One of the crucial issues that confronts us is how we can continue to assist people who are making the transition from welfare to work.

    For several years, West Virginia enjoyed the benefits of a surplus in federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families - or TANF.

    That surplus is now gone and, while we continue to receive federal help, we cannot spend dollars we do not have. The TANF advisory panel made some very difficult choices and challenged us to find new state funds to begin to fill the gap created by the shortfall. Because of savings identified elsewhere, I have included $20 million in new general revenue funds to support these essential programs.

    Let me talk about one of those programs. We depend on families to care for our children who are the most vulnerable ... the children who may, through no fault of their own, find themselves without loving parents. It is in this situation that foster parents open their homes and hearts to children who need a lot of love. Some of our most caring citizens serve as foster parents.

    The $20 million I have allocated in the budget will help protect these foster children. I urge you to make this appropriation a priority and help give families a chance to help these children.

    Now I want to take a moment to express the thanks of all West Virginians for the services provided in the past year by our state, our county and our city public employees.

    Time and time again, they were there to help where the need was greatest. Our highway workers doubled as security personnel after September 11, keeping a 24-hour watch on crucial roads and bridges. Our forestry staff fought fires on long shifts and were away from their home and families for days on end. Our social workers dealt with people and families in crisis after crisis.

    State employees also worked hard this year to make each citizen's everyday encounters with government more efficient and more pleasant. They are making a difference - and
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