CHARLESTON –- Gov. Joe Manchin's office says the list of concerns expressed in the state Chamber of Commerce's recent statewide opinion survey of businesses pretty much matches Manchin's current agenda.

The Chamber on Monday released the results of a survey that found an overwhelming majority of state businesses -– 81 percent -– believed legal reform was among the top issues state leaders need to address in order to keep businesses from eliminating jobs during the recession.

Cutting business taxes, improving education of the workforce and leaving an unemployment compensation tax alone were also high on the survey respondents' list of what the state should, or should not, do.

"I believe the areas of concern mentioned in the survey are areas that Gov. Manchin has addressed as important to the future of our state, and he is bringing all the sides on these issues to the table to discuss how we can continue to move our state forward," Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said.

"We've made a lot of progress in these areas in recent years and have done so responsibly, listening to the needs of those who will be affected by such changes."

Turner pointed to a promise Manchin made during his State of the State address in February that he intended to create a commission to study the state's judicial system and recommend any changes.

That review may include whether the state needs an intermediate appellate court -– which has been advocated by a number of groups –- and whether judges and Supreme Court justices should be elected on a non-partisan basis or appointed.

Turner said Manchin's office still is working on the executive order that would create the study commission.

The survey found that 80 percent of the respondents felt that Manchin was effective in addressing the needs of business. Alternatively, 82 percent felt that the state Supreme Court was counter-effective.

Turner said the governor has also shepherded responsible reductions in certain business taxes and the eventual elimination of the food tax "so that our businesses can operate more effectively and our families have more money in their own pockets, while not jeopardizing the state's finances."

Manchin has proposed requiring temporary payments by employers and employees into the state's unemployment compensation trust fund, which has been under assault because of the increasing numbers of laid-off workers filing for benefits. Manchin's proposal would be triggered if the fund dropped below $180 million.

The Legislature wants to permanently increase the taxable wage base from $8,000 to $9,000 in order to shore up the fund.
Turner said Manchin is not seeking to make changes in an executive void.

"As far as possible increases in unemployment taxes, the governor is prepared to work with our business community to find a solution that enables us to keep our trust fund solvent without placing too much of a burden on our employers and employees," Turner said.

"The governor's unemployment compensation fund 'trigger' bill will keep us from reaching a point of insolvency that left our state with a bill that it couldn't pay, forcing us into a financial position that in turn costs taxpayers more money.

"Because of the fiscal responsibility we've practiced the last four years, today we are in a position that enables us to plan for the financial situations on the horizon and how those will affect our citizens, our businesses and our government."

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