(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series.)
CHARLESTON - Keeping with the tradition of years gone by, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin entered the House Chambers at the State Capitol to a standing ovation and was greeted with cheers, handshakes and smiles as he walked to the podium to present the 2014 State of the State address.
After greeting everyone in attendance and extending his gratitude to every person who braved the cold temperatures to attend the kickoff of the 2014 legislative session, Tomblin began his speech with some memories of his childhood that he used as an example as how he learned to plan, have patience and foresight.
“As many of you know, I was raised in the small town of Chapmanville in Logan County. I lived in a modest home with my mom, dad and brother,” he said. “Everyone knew each other in our neighborhood. Kids played outside until their parents called them in at dinner, and most backyards had a thriving garden.
“In our home, we didn’t always have what we wanted, but we always had what we needed, especially at the table, because of that we grew in our garden,” Tomblin said. “We took care of that garden - prepping the soil, planting the seeds in perfect rows and making sure it received enough water.
“Three years ago, when Joanne and I moved into the Governor’s Mansion, I was thrilled to learn it included a small garden. I knew I would be able to cultivate something good, lasting and meaningful for the visitors to the mansion,” the governor said. “I’ve been a gardener all my life. In fact, my entire family took part in the tremendously hard - but richly rewarding process of canning.
“Every year, our kitchen turned into what looked like a food factory as we canned our harvest,” he said. “We stocked up on (put away) tomatoes, beans and potatoes for the winter months, recognizing that there may be lean years - or rainy days - down the road.”
“I’ve learned a lot since I first walked into this Capitol nearly 40 years ago as a delegate, then a senator. Since becoming your governor, I’ve learned even more,” he said. “Governing - like gardening - takes planning, patience and foresight.”
The governor said he had learned how incredibly important it is to be a good steward of the people’s money, and how important it is to say yes when you can, and being strong enough to say no when you can’t. He remarked that “this is the key to fiscal responsibility.”
“My fellow West Virginians - make no mistake - the State of our State is strong,” he said.
That statement was met with roaring applause.
Tomblin said that our state pays its bills on time and that we’ve invested in our future by continuing to work together as we face future challenges. He said our state government will not impose financial burdens on future generations and said that, in fact, our reserve fund is one of the healthiest in the nation.
“We didn’t get here by accident,” the governor said. “We got here with planning, patience and foresight.”
“Our Rainy Day Fund has a savings of over $920 million and it has helped protect and improve the state’s credit rating for over 20 years. We have ensured timely and sound pension contributions,” Tomblin said. “Liabilities in the Workers’ Compensation program were about $8 billion just nine years ago. By the end of this year, the state’s workers’ compensation unfunded liability is expected to be less than $500 million.”
The state’s leader remarked that West Virginia has not had a general tax increase since 1996. Unlike other states that had to drain their reserve funds during the recession, our state did not have to borrow one dime. Because of the work that has been done in the past three years, and through the work that will take place in the future, the governor plans to cultivate a better future for all West Virginians. He stated that we will create positive opportunities for our seniors, veterans, students, families, businesses and communities.
“We continue to experience positive change across the Mountain State and have set in motion many initiatives that will not fully bloom until long after my term has ended,” Tomblin said. “But the hope of a fruitful harvest keeps us working hard each and every day.”