CHARLESTON – Critics are calling out West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for what was missing from his annual State of the State address.
Tomblin delivered the speech Wednesday to both houses of the state Legislature, saying “this is a year of tough financial choices for our state. Our budget is strained.”
Still, he included a 2 percent raise for teachers in his budget proposal as well as a $504 raise for state employees. Otherwise, the budget has no new expenditures and many cuts. It also includes $84 million taken from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund.”
After the address, critics were quick to note its perceived shortcomings.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said the speech “missed a key opportunity to highlight the need for legal reforms that could boost jobs and the economy in the state.”
“Another legislative session has arrived, and once again Governor Tomblin has failed to address our state’s notorious and job-killing legal climate,” WV CALA Executive Director Greg Thomas said in a statement. “Just last month, the American Tort Reform Foundation named West Virginia a ‘Judicial Hellhole.’ Reasons include a recent Supreme Court of Appeals opinion expanding property owners’ liability, as well as our status as one of only two states nationally without an absolute right of appeal.
“Our reputation for unfair courts continues to hinder our ability to attract sorely needed new jobs. It also deters our small businesses from expanding and drives people out of our state to look for work elsewhere. We need legal reforms to bring our state in line with surrounding states and make us a competitive place to do business.”
Thomas also noted that West Virginia ranks last in the country in workforce participation, a title the state has held for more than 30 years. He also noted that the U.S. Census Bureau announced last week that West Virginia was one of only two states in the country to lose population in 2013.
“This year, the governor and legislative leaders will be addressing a budget shortfall,” Thomas said. “One of the least costly policy changes the governor could propose to help our economy is meaningful legal reforms.
“Unfortunately, with personal injury lawyers currently controlling both the House of Delegates and State Senate (House Speaker Tim Miley and Senate President Jeff Kessler), common sense legal reforms likely would be opposed to preserve our culture of lawsuit greed. Mountain State citizens should urge our state leaders to create a legal environment that is good for jobs rather than good for personal injury lawyers.”
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas said party is “disappointed for the citizens of West Virginia.”
“When given the opportunity to truly change our state's trajectory, the ruling party again chooses stasis,” Lucas said in a statement, saying the address didn’t mention “ObamaCare's attack on our health care security.”
“The governor and his party continue their unwillingness to fight the EPA to defend our mines, power plants, gas wells and farms,” Lucas said. “And, by refusing to condemn those Democrats who have embarrassed our state with scandal after scandal, the governor continued to destroy the public's trust. The ruling party has given us ObamaCare, attacks on coal, higher taxes and broken promises."