West Virginia State of the State Address 2001

Following is the full text of Gov. Bob Wise's State of the State Address.

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

One month ago, the people of West Virginia gave you and me both a privilege and a challenge. The privilege is to serve them; the challenge is to get West Virginia moving again.

The people demand that we no longer accept the idea that West Virginia should take last place at the nation's table.

They demand that we educate our children so that they can have better lives and take advantage of the job opportunities we will create - and at the same time, they demand that we teach by example and by word the values that have made this a great state and a great nation.

They demand that we improve our healthcare, and that we provide the means for each citizen to have access to health care.

They demand that we make our economy stronger, and that we participate fully in the new economy based on information and technology.

They demand that we protect the special places that make West Virginia what it is, and preserve our water, our air and our land for future generations to enjoy.

They demand that we conduct the business of government in a way that reflects the trust they have given us - and we are good stewards of the taxes they pay, that we conduct the people's business with their best interests in mind at all times, and that we treat citizens as the customers of government, not as its subjects.

Our job is to apply the resources of this wonderful state to one mission: to secure a better future for our people. This will require investment. It will require hard decisions. And it will require that we apply the values that make West Virginia great - hard work, fairness, honesty and humility.

West Virginia must keep its best and brightest here at home, and bring home the productive people who have left in recent years in search of economic opportunities they could not find here.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am happy to be home. I am happy that our family is together in West Virginia-and it is with great happiness that I recognize my wife, Sandy Wise, sitting in the front row tonight with our children, Robert and Alexandra.

It gives us great pleasure as a family to know that our children's future in West Virginia is bright. But it is our responsibility to make it better. Getting West Virginia moving again will not be easy, my friends.

Since taking office I have instructed my department heads and staff to help me study the financial status of our state government. Ladies and gentlemen, the cupboard is bare. Despite the 3 percent budget cut which I was forced to impose on the first day of my term, we are looking at a state budget with minimal growth for the next year.

We're paying the price for some reckless decisions by state government. We have about nine million dollars in unpaid phone bills, some of them three years old. There have been massive overcommitments on highway projects that we must now fund. The contingency fund that we need to keep in reserve for emergencies has been depleted - along with several other funds.

We are now at what appears to be the waning days of the longest period of economic growth in our nation's recent history - and West Virginia has precious little to show for it. I am presenting you tonight with a budget that is in balance, and that begins to make the investments we must make. It is a budget with no fat, no frills, and no nonsense. It is a budget that makes tough decisions. It is a budget that says the irresponsible practices that got us in this situation will not be tolerated again.

I will not ask you to increase the tax burden on business. With the exception of eliminating the tax loophole that exists for smokeless tobacco, I will not ask for any change in existing consumer taxes. Our people's tax burden is high enough.

Our passport to prosperity is education - and education is the centerpiece of my program.

Education is crucial to the future of our children and our state. Despite the state's financial condition, we must make some new investments in education. We cannot have economic development, we cannot fulfill our other responsibilities - without first making West Virginia truly THE education state.

My first priority is funding for the PROMISE Scholarship Program. This will provide each qualified student who works hard and plays by the rules with a scholarship at one of our state colleges or universities, or an equivalent scholarship to be used at a West Virginia private college, technical training center or other accredited program.

This Legislature has already passed the basic legislation that created the PROMISE. But there hasn't been any money provided to keep the PROMISE. It has to happen. I'll tell you why.

Very Simply: West Virginia needs to build the kind of educated populace that is the key to participation in the new, information-based economy. Talk, as I have, to the executives at the High Tech Consortium in Fairmont-they will tell you finding the qualified and educated workforce is their greatest challenge.

In order to do that, we must make our colleges, universities, technical training programs and other post-secondary education programs more accessible to our students. We need to change the expectation level of students and parents so that each child knows, that by working hard, he or she can, and will, get the education and training needed for a good job.

Some argue that needs based scholarships should get top priority. Guess what? I agree.

That's why this budget, for the first time in the history of the state, includes an additional $6 million to provide a West Virginia Higher Education Grant to every student who qualifies. But that's not enough.

There are many West Virginia families just above the income limits who aren't eligible for assistance, yet have trouble paying for their children's higher education.

The son and daughters of the Boone County coal miner-the Martinsburg school teacher-the steelworker in Weirton-the Putnam County truck driver-the Clarksburg police officer -- need these dollars. If you work hard-you should be able to get some help.

We've looked at every other state program that grants aid based on achievement. We've seen some tremendous successes - and we have noted that there were some problems, and some growing pains. West Virginia can, and will, learn from the experience of other states that have established such programs in their higher education systems.

The voters of West Virginia last November elected a governor whose number one commitment was to make good on this promise. Every time I visit a school, or meet with parents, they ask me if we're going to follow through.

West Virginia students need this opportunity and incentive. It's time to quit talking and take action. The states we compete with are leaving us behind.

I am delivering to you, today, as my first legislative priority, a budget that funds the PROMISE Scholarship for students in the fall of 2002. No student will be left behind. If you are qualified - you will get help from the State of West Virginia.

Ladies and gentlemen, you made a promise. Working together we are going to KEEP THE PROMISE! But that is not all. If students are going to make it in college, they will need to be prepared for college. Our top goal in this area is to reduce the number of students who are unprepared when they enter college. I have created, by Executive Order, a statewide council on college preparation that will look at the entire system, from preschool through graduate school, and recommend changes that will help all levels of education work together to benefit the students.

A top quality educational system depends on all the education community, the school service personnel, the teachers, the principals, and the administrators.

Teachers are the heart of the educational system. All of us know a teacher who has made a difference in our lives. Tonight, I'd like you all to welcome a special guest --someone recognized for clearly making a difference in her students' lives. Donna Ream of Lewisburg Elementary School, the West Virginia Teacher of the Year.

We must honor the work of our teachers. I have asked some of our business leaders to join me in that. And so, tonight, I am pleased to be joined by Greg Smith, of Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and David Copenhaver, Tammy Hamby and Eric Sylvester of Toyota Motors. These two companies value education. They're creating good jobs that will employ well educated people.

Because they know how important teaching is, Mountain State Blue Cross and Blue Shield is awarding this West Virginia Teacher of the Year a check for $5,000.

There's a brand new Toyota Avalon sedan parked next to the Governor's Mansion. For the next year Ms. Ream will have the use of that car, courtesy of Toyota, as a token of their appreciation for the work of all West Virginia teachers. And, by the way, the three Toyota team members here tonight helped build that car's high quality engine at Toyota's plant in Buffalo, West Virginia.

I wish we could do the same for every hardworking teacher, school service worker and principal. Unfortunately, when we began preparing this year's budget the declining economic conditions forced us to consider granting no salary increases. But when we are asking for even more effort, I simply can't do that.

Therefore I propose to increase the salary of every West Virginia elementary and secondary teacher by $1,000, and every school service worker's salary by $756, effective January 1, 2002.

We will continue to help teachers who want to do better in the classroom. The education bill that I will bring before you tomorrow also adds an incentive for teachers to improve their teaching skills and achieve national certification. Each teacher who obtains this certificate - and it is not easy, ladies and gentlemen - will get an salary increase of $2,500.

Let me speak directly to our educators. This pay increase is not adequate for what we ask you to do. Several years ago your salaries were raised to 30th in the nation. But we have been losing the momentum that brought you there. In just the past four years you have fallen to below 40th place.

I commit to you tonight a multiyear effort to begin moving you back up the national ladder. Tonight, I can't guarantee an exact amount for future years, because nobody knows what the economy will do.

We need to do more to keep the best and the brightest educators in our schools. I will commit to working with you on a strategy to develop incentives to keep experienced teachers in class longer.

I feel so strongly about this because of my personal experience as a parent. Recently, both our children have been involved in weekend academic competitions. It may be a Saturday, but their teachers are there. Several teachers even came into school early three days a week, or stayed late to coach their team. There is no extra pay; no financial reward. They are committed, and this commitment is in every school in our state. I would like to say to our principals, our teachers and our school service personnel, from Sandy and me, and on behalf of all West Virginia parents, "Thank-you, for what you do!"

Our schools must also reflect and reinforce our deeply held values. We can do a good job of teaching the 3 'R's...reading, writing and arithmetic. But it's time to add two more... Responsibility and Respect.

Character education begins with parents. We're adding three quarters of a million dollars in this budget to help teachers reinforce the lessons in character that children learn at home.

We also must do more to ensure safety for everyone in our schools. I will guarantee that the toll-free School Safety Hotline operates statewide 24 hours a day - and we will fully fund it at the state level for the first time.

One thing we should do as we move toward becoming the education state, is to create a State Science Camp, modeled on West Virginia's successful National Youth Science Camp. I intend to work with the Legislature to make this happen. We also must ensure that school personnel and students work in modern schools. We need to get education out of trailers and into real classrooms. I will propose a bond package for capital improvements in public education.

I served with pride in this Legislature 20 years ago, and we balanced our budget. I served in the United States House of Representatives for 18 years, during which we changed the philosophy of the Congress toward the discipline of a balanced budget. So I will not make proposals for new scholarship funds or pay raises without tying them directly to a source of revenue or to savings in other areas.

We can fund these investments in our future, and at the same time address an issue that troubles many West Virginia families, by imposing restrictions and regulations on video gambling.

West Virginia is drowning in a sea of video poker machines, better known as gray machines. Some estimates I have seen tell us that there are, today, twenty to thirty thousand of these machines in operation in our state.

Our convenience stores and gas stations are becoming unlicensed casinos. Children wander past gambling on their way to the candy counter. And, for years, the government of West Virginia has sat idly by and let this happen.

Every attempt to regulate this industry has been stopped, sometimes by people who claim that regulating it would "expand gambling." It would be difficult to devise any way to expand gambling any more than has happened in the past four years. It can't get any worse. This illegal industry grosses as much as a half a billion dollars a year.

The current situation, more than anything else, breeds disrespect for the law. When the state gives a wink and a nod to an industry that is clearly in violation of the laws, it sends a message that we are not serious about the rule of law. If we expect to raise up a generation of West Virginians with the character to build a better society, we must set a better example.

Whatever our personal views on gambling might be, it is crystal clear that the time has come to remove thousands of machines from businesses frequented by children, to stop the development of unlicensed gambling parlors, and to limit the number and location of new gambling machines. Together we can do this.

The bill I will introduce tomorrow will reduce, restrict and regulate video gambling in West Virginia, and will do so by taking the following steps:

  • The number of video gambling machines will be limited to 9,000 statewide.

  • These machines will be prohibited in any part of a business open to young people, and there will be a limit of five machines at any one location.

  • Operators will have to pass a strict criminal background check and have been state residents for at least two years.

  • Anyone who operates an illegal gambling machine after January 1, 2002, will forfeit not only that machine, but also any and all legal and illegal machines under his or her control.

    My proposal will do something no one has done before--reduce, restrict and regulate the gray machines - and provide a steady new stream of income to finance the PROMISE Scholarship, other education efforts and the infrastructure necessary to build West Virginia.

    I appreciate those who say they oppose any expansion of gambling -- so do I. But every year they stopped any regulation-they only made it possible for even more gambling.

    I look forward to working with you. But this must be the legislative session that finally acts to control these machines.

    Let's talk about economic development.

    If you want to take the temperature of our economy, I suggest you look at the license plates of the cars in your neighbors' driveways at Christmastime. You'll see their grown children's cars, their brothers' and sisters' cars - with Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland license tags.

    All these people think of West Virginia as home, because it is. They come back whenever they can. They're here for the holidays; they're here for college football games. Many plan to retire here. But they're making their living, and contributing to the economy, in our neighbor states.

    It doesn't have to be this way. Like we read in the Bible, in the Book of Jeremiah: "There is hope, saith the Lord, that your children shall return to their own borders."

    At the end of my time of office, I want West Virginia to be a destination for ambitious people. I want our state to be a magnet for investment. I will be West Virginia's number one salesman. I'm going to be on the road - around the state, around the country, and around the world if needed - spreading the word about our abundant power: our electricity, our coal and gas, our timber and our water. I'll spread the word about our open spaces and our clean air.

    But most of all, I will tell investors we have the one thing that cannot be mined, manufactured or purchased anywhere: Us. It's who we are, our people. We West Virginians, with our work ethic, our traditional values and our willingness to help each other out, are the best source of our own future prosperity. The state must be an active partner in economic progress. As a candidate, I presented the people of West Virginia with a detailed economic plan. They endorsed it. Now we must put it into action.

    We must remove the barriers that stand in the way of businesses large and small. We must move quickly when we have opportunities, or when disaster looms, to see that West Virginia is at the table when deals are being struck.

    Economic uncertainty abounds in the steel industry, in the chemical industry, in coal and gas - and many West Virginians are worried about their future. We can do better at anticipating change, and in making West Virginia an attractive location for industry.

    I will create and chair the West Virginia Jobs Swat Team. It is not enough to respond when a shut down notice is issued - by then, it is usually too late. State development officials must be monitoring and anticipating these situations well in advance. Our Jobs Swat Team will include the director of the Development Office, the secretary of tax and revenue, the commissioners of employment and environmental protection - and others. We will also call on local and regional leaders - and regional development groups like Advantage Valley - to protect the jobs we have, and attract new, high quality jobs all over West Virginia.

    We don't have all the resources some other states may have - but we can work harder and smarter if we work as a team.

    We need to work as a team to take advantage of a historic opportunity that is before us in the energy market. This is the traditional backbone of West Virginia's economy. But it's a different world now. We have the energy resources that the country needs - but we must work intelligently to harvest those resources, and develop them in an environmentally appropriate way. I have established the Governor's Energy Advisory Task Force, with the help of the National Energy Technology Laboratory and others, to develop new strategies to make our coal, gas, electricity and other power sources work for us in the long term.

    We're also going to continue to build roads in West Virginia. Our Congressional delegation has worked overtime to secure funding for Corridor H and Corridor D. And we will complete these roads, and others crucial to our future. As a person who spent nearly 20 years on the Transportation Committee of the House Representatives, I will continue to work to bring good roads to West Virginia communities.

    The Legislature has already authorized the issuance of 440 million in road bonds. Unfortunately, the previous administration overspent this authorization by 33 million dollars. In order to meet these obligations, I am asking you today for authorization to issue the final 110 million dollars in road bonds already approved by the voters. After meeting our existing obligations, the balance of this road fund will be used to match the greatest number of Federal dollars.

    Obviously, to keep our road building plans moving, I will ask you to renew the 5-cent gas tax. This is not a new tax, but simply continues an existing tax, and that 55 million dollars is necessary to keep our road program going.

    I ask you for some important economic development legislation this year: the long-awaited reform of the West Virginia Capital Company Act. The Legislature created this act to stimulate new businesses. But many well-established companies, that could have obtained funding in the traditional marketplace, have tapped this fund, and tapped West Virginia taxpayers. This has gone on too long. The bill before you will restrict this money to creating new jobs and new opportunities.

    I am also asking you to pass legislation to create a Sunny Day Fund, so that when a company is at the point of making an investment decision to create jobs in West Virginia, the state can immediately come in and put some financial muscle into the negotiating process.

    I will conduct, before the next regular session of this Legislature, a complete top-to-bottom review of the various tax incentives that have been developed for business over the past several decades. We need to see which ones work, and strengthen them; we need to see if any are ineffective, and direct those resources elsewhere. And we need to study the tax incentives available in other states and countries and see where we can be more competitive.

    We will remove obstacles in state government to business start-ups. Through cooperation among state agencies, we will provide one-stop shopping -available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on the Internet - to entrepreneurs who want to do business in West Virginia. Most new businesses are started by people who already have a day job - and can't afford to take time off to stand in lines at state offices.

    I am also ordering a review of the state's regulatory rules and practices. Regulation is important, and can be a shield against unfair practices - if it is effective, and if it is not burdensome. West Virginia cannot allow outdated regulatory practices to slow down our economic growth.

    I have established by executive order the West Virginia Motorsports Council, to begin to capture much more of the motorsports revenue that originates in this state. I have also created a Film Development Council to dramatically step up the effort to bring more motion picture industry jobs to West Virginia. I'm sick and tired of watching movies about West Virginia that are filmed in other states. We're going to be in driver's seat AND in the movies, folks.

    We must also recognize that tourism has become an irreplaceable part of our economy. I love to bring business leaders to West Virginia for raft trips, or to a ski resort, or to one of our state parks. They fall in love with West Virginia, and then they want to move here. For thousands of people up and down the East Coast - and, increasingly, around the world - West Virginia is becoming a top tourist destination.

    I have included in the budget an improvement package to make crucially needed investments in our state parks. And we will find the funds to continue development of the Hatfield McCoy Trail.

    West Virginia's Congressional delegation has pledged to continue to work with us to get our economy moving again. Senator Robert C. Byrd, Senator Jay Rockefeller, and Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, Congressman Alan Mollohan, and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito have made it clear to me that they make this their first priority.

    My priority in working with our delegation in Washington will be to stop the destruction of the steel industry by illegal imports. West Virginia's steel industry has developed efficient processes and adapted to the new international marketplace. But it can't survive against an onslaught of subsidized and underpriced steel from abroad. This country must have a strong and vibrant steel industry to remain an industrial power - and West Virginia will be a part of it.

    I have already met with the top executives and union leadership of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel and Weirton Steel. The state will work closely with them to keep them strong. As our congressional delegation fights unfair foreign steel-I will join that battle.

    One step we can take, immediately, to preserve steel jobs, is to require the use of U.S. made steel in state-funded projects. I have prepared a bill to do just that. I respectfully urge you to take up this legislation at the start of business tomorrow, and to move it through both houses of this Legislature in record time. I promise to sign it the minute it arrives on my desk.

    We're in this fight, and we're in it to win...for West Virginia.

    Let's talk about health care, because we must improve the health of our people.

    This Legislature has acted wisely in establishing a Children's Health Insurance Program to help the uninsured children of working families. But this program has yet to reach many eligible children. Immediately after my Administration began, we signed a contract with the state's primary care clinics to promote CHIP in doctors' offices and other health care settings.

    We will do even more to get the word out. Just this weekend, one of West Virginia's true native stars, Kathy Mattea, taped a public service announcement urging parents to call and sign their children up for healthcare. Let's thank Kathy Mattea and others like her, for helping us reach out to thousands of children and get them the care they deserve.

    I have included one and a half million dollars in the budget to cover additional children. And we will work aggressively - and cut through red tape - to make sure every child in West Virginia has access to coverage - whether under CHIP, Medicaid, or private insurance. Every child. That's my goal.

    We have a patient bill of rights law, so they say, in West Virginia - but patients will tell you, it does not grant them very many rights. I want to fix that. I will present for your consideration a new Patient Bill of Rights, which includes a fast, impartial grievance procedure for disputes, independent reviews of coverage denials, and the right to sue an HMO for negligence that results in harm to a patient.

    Senior citizens, the chronically ill, and our state health budget are all being battered by rising drug prices. Upon taking office I summoned to the Capitol the representatives of the nation's drug manufacturers to meet with our state agencies that deal with prescription drugs. We now have a strategy to contain these costs: we're going to create a pharmacy benefit program for our poorest senior citizens. We're going to expand the discount program for seniors above the poverty level. We're developing a drug benefit plan that could be an add-on for people on Medicare and employer-based insurance. And we're going to pool the buying power of all the state agencies that purchase medicine and use this to drive a harder bargain with the drug companies.

    And, while we're talking about health, I ask you to close the tax loophole that exempts smokeless tobacco from the same excise tax we have on cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco is sold to young West Virginians at an alarming rate. We have the highest consumption levels of this product in the country. This is a dangerous situation, particularly for our children, and raising the price of smokeless tobacco is a sure way of reducing its use by young people.

    It's also important to remember the health care we owe to our veterans. That's why I support not only building a veteran's nursing home, but speeding up the schedule for funding this home, so that we can serve our aging veterans, as they served us. I have also prepared for your consideration a bill to lower the blood alcohol standard for impaired driving to point -oh-eight percent. This is not only a public health and safety issue, but will also bring us into compliance with the Federal standard, and avoid the loss of highway funds that are contingent upon this action.

    Public employees deserve a stable, dependable health system, too. I am determined to keep the Public Employees' Insurance Agency solvent. I am also proposing a measure to contain costs -- for agencies and for employees -- in our Public Employees Insurance system. We will improve service to employees, and move to more efficient processes. The bill I will offer to you does not harm the benefit plans of any current employee - but will eliminate, for people hired on or after July 1 of this year, the option to trade unused sick leave for months or years of health coverage after retirement.

    Let me take a moment to talk about another challenge our state faces - how to achieve balance between developing our economy and protecting our environment.

    We will have a strong economy. We will continue to mine coal, to produce electricity, to manufacture quality goods, and to create high-technology jobs.

    It was the prevailing wisdom in the last century, and in previous generations, that economic growth carried the price of environmental sacrifice. We in West Virginia often divided ourselves into two camps - energy on one side, environment on the other. In so doing, we lost sight of a basic truth: we will share the future of West Virginia together.

    It is my goal to put behind us the era of divisiveness on the issue of West Virginia's environment. All of us who love West Virginia - whether we work at behind a desk or a dozer, at a coal mine or a corporate headquarters - love our hills, our rivers, our woods and our valleys. We must preserve them for our children, and their children.

    We can have a clean environment-and we can have good paying jobs. And there must be no higher economic development priority-therefore-I ask you to elevate the Director of the Division of Environmental Protection to the post of secretary, and add this official to the Governor's Cabinet to emphasize the importance of environmental protection to this government and to our people.

    Every action DEP takes affects our environment and our economy.

    We can move beyond confrontation. We will. We will strictly enforce state and federal laws for the protection of the environment in the mining industry, so that citizens will know that the excesses of the past will not return. And we will work with all sides to have a reliable, uniform and predictable permit process.

    We will protect the places West Virginians hold dear. We cannot afford to have our natural treasures, like the Blackwater Canyon, slip out of our hands. I will, in the near future, announce a land conservation plan for West Virginia that respects both the private landowner and the public interest.

    We do not do this simply out of nostalgia or emotion. It's an economic investment as well. One of the treasures we have in West Virginia, that is increasingly rare in this country and the world, is the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors just a few miles from the centers of our cities.

    Access to these lands is a prime drawing card for the high paying jobs of the new economy, not tied to a single place by access to ports, railways or raw materials. With high-speed access to the Internet, many information based jobs can be located anywhere. We want them here.

    One of the best selling points for West Virginia - the reason so many of our people wish they could come home - is our low crime rate. This has always been one of the safest places in A
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