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Tomblin's agenda scores mixed reviews

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin scored some hits and misses with his 2014 legislative agenda.

The day after his agenda was laid out in his State of the State address, a chemical leak from a storage tank on the Elk River polluted the drinking water supply of 300,000 people, upstaging the opening of the legislative session.

Eleven days after the leak, Tomblin had legislation introduced that would establish an above-ground storage tank regulation program. The proposal went through a gauntlet of legislative hearings and was altered but it ultimately passed. Tomblin has said it may be the most significant new state law this year.

Other successes

Tomblin scored other successes, too:

  • He asked for a 2 percent pay raise for all teachers and school service personnel. The Legislature delivered a $1,000 pay raise for teachers, which will cost $30 million, and a 2 percent raise for school service employees, which will cost $8 million. It's the first pay raise for teachers in three years.

He also asked for and the Legislature delivered numerous proposals that weren't talked about as much, including:

  • A $504 pay raise for state employees, which will cost $9 million.
  • A tax break worth as much as $25 million to The Greenbrier Resort, where owner Jim Justice plans to build a medical clinic.
  • State purchasing law reforms.
  • He proposed and got legislation authorizing the mobilization of medical services, law enforcement and related equipment in preparation for future emergencies.
  • He asked for and received a bill allowing military spouses who work in jobs that require a state license to begin working within a month of applying for a license, while going through the normal process to obtain a permanent license.

Some of Tomblin initiatives that died included:

  • Moving the Children's Health Insurance Program from the Department of Administration to the Department of Health and Human Resources.
  • Providing criminal penalties for the dissemination of false, misleading or deceptive information through automated telephone calls during a declared state of emergency.
  • Eliminating a number of state boards, commissions and councils that no longer operate "but linger on the books, creating ambiguity and clutter."

Budget work

Legislators spent a significant amount of time wrangling over the budget. Tomblin proposed taking nearly $84 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund, which contains more than $900 million, to balance the budget. The Legislature ultimately delivered a budget that would have taken more than $140 million from the fund. But Tomblin had the final say. He used his line-item veto power to reduce the budget by almost $67 million.

Low profile

The governor, one of the few people under the Capitol dome who isn't running for re-election, didn't take a high-profile stance on some of the issues that seemed to dominate lots of legislators' time — gun rights, an anti-abortion bill and a proposal that would have required a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

No headway

One topic that made no headway: Additional funding for highway construction and maintenance. 

Tomblin created a blue-ribbon commission in August 2012 to examine highway funding and to recommend revenue sources. The commission determined that current funding is far short of needs. It recommended a $1 billion bond issue, to be financed with turnpike tolls. The governor was lukewarm to that proposal. The commission has not issued a final report.