By Pamela Pritt
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin used a gardening theme in his State of the State address Wednesday night, and some of the produce of that speech was bipartisan support from the region’s representatives.
The governor proposed a 2 percent raise for teachers in a budget that will use a portion of the Rainy Day Fund to make ends meet and is called “austere” by Secretary of Revenue Bob Kiss. Still, teacher raises got support from the area’s senators and delegates.
Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, said he was “very impressed” with the governor’s commitment to education and young people. In particular, Green said he agreed with raises for teachers.
“In these lean times, to give our teachers the opportunity for a 2 percent raise — I know it’s not enough (but), it’s a goodwill gesture that will go a long way to show teachers we appreciate what they do,” Green said.
Greenbrier County Senator Ron Miller agreed, although he said he didn’t expect the governor to propose teacher raises.
“We have to do something about teacher pay,” Miller said. “It might not be necessarily enough, but we’ll work on it this session.”
Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, agreed with the teacher pay raise proposal, as well.
“Our teachers are so low paid compared to surrounding states,” Sumner said. “We need to keep our good teachers in our state.”
Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, called the teachers’ pay raise “way overdue.”
And Delegate Lynne Arvon, D-Raleigh, said she applauded the governor’s proposal for teacher raises.
As for using the Rainy Day Fund to help bridge the budget gap, the region’s representatives said they were okay with spending the fund, as long as it is used in a responsible manner. The overall theme from the delegation was “it’s what it’s there for.”
Green said the Legislature will have to have the discipline not to abuse using the fund. “If we do that, I’m okay with it,” Green said.
Miller said the governor is proposing using the fund to “get over a tough spot. It’s what the Rainy Day Fund is for.”
Sumner noted that West Virginia has one of the most well-endowed Rainy Day Funds in the nation but she, too, wants to be sure the Legislature spends responsibly.
“It’s supposed to used for emergencies,” Sumner said. “We have to make sure our priorities are in order; we have to go over it with a fine-tooth comb first.”
Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette, said he agreed with using a portion of the fund, and that $83 million will not affect the state’s bond rating.
And Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, said in light of the fact the state has to have a balanced budget, using the Rainy Day Fund is necessary.
The region’s representatives said they thought the speech was positive and hopeful for West Virginia’s future.
“It’s a time for hope in the state,” Arvon said. “I agree with his plan. My hope is we can work together this session and truly make some steps forward with the plan he has.”
Representatives also liked the governor’s plan for jobs, and that he addressed other issues in education, particularly expanding math and English classes to the state’s vo-tech centers.