During his sixth and final State of the State address Wednesday, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin introduced a series of reforms regarding education, employment and methods to combat substance abuse for the remainder of his time in office.
Tomblin said despite repercussions of the wilting coal industry, 2016 would host a variety of “bold” initiatives to renovate while simultaneously preserving West Virginia’s unique past.
The additions of the Procter & Gamble manufacturing plant, along with the expansion of Addivant, is expected to strengthen the business climate of the Mountain State and provide an abundance of job opportunities for West Virginians.
“Projects of this size and scope strengthen our economy, create new jobs and serve as an investment in both our state and our people,” Tomblin said, noting that the facility would create 1,000 jobs during its construction phase. “Once fully operational, it is projected to employ the company’s fifth largest workforce in the country.”
With a pause for applause, Tomblin described the ongoing partnership between Procter & Gamble and the BlueRidge Community and Technical College that will create workforce training in engineering, electronics and computer science in order to prepare students for their careers.
“We’ve worked hard to bring these jobs to West Virginia for West Virginians and now, they must be filled,” Tomblin said.
Tomblin said he had proposed legislation that would redirect $300,000 from the state’s current budget to the Learn and Earn program, an initiative that assists students in gaining hands-on, classroom experience while earning a “competitive salary” and preparing them for careers with companies such as Gestamp.
“Through a partnership with BridgeValley Community and Technical College, students can earn a one-year certificate, an associate’s degree and a journeyman’s card,” Tomblin said.
Tomblin introduced the Self-Employment Assistance Act, an initiative to offer grants for small business owners and those starting new businesses in the Mountain State, particularly those who have been recently laid off.
“Ninety-six of West Virginia’s employers are small business owners and they are the backbone of our economy,” Tomblin said. “While we work to help tens of thousands of West Virginians on unemployment find new opportunities to succeed, we can’t overlook the training and skills they already have.”
In September 2015, the state’s first 24-hour hotline for substance abuse debuted to offer assistance and direction for those battling with addiction. Since it’s founding, Tomblin said, more than 700 West Virginians have been connected with treatment and recovery services.
Tomblin said he also plans to propose legislation to expand further access to Narcan, a medication used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. In 2015, approximately 3,000 doses of the medication were administered in response to an overdose.
“Tonight, I once again urge this Legislature to expand access to Narcan by supporting my proposal to make it available to any West Virginian – without a prescription,” Tomblin said.
Tomblin said he also has hopes to restructure the education system with the Innovation in Education proposal.
If passed, the legislation will allocate $2.5 million in existing funding to improve programs in science, technology, and entrepreneurship while promoting critical thinking in every student’s career.
In an effort to discourage youth from using tobacco products, Tomblin also announced a raise in tobacco taxes from 45 cents to $1 per product.
“This increase will be considered too high by some people and too low by others,” Tomblin said. “But it strikes a balance that protects retailers in our border counties and discourages our young people from smoking, while generating nearly $71.5 million annually in new revenue.”
Tomblin closed his final address with a heartfelt call to action for both residents and members of the political system.
“Over the next 60 days and throughout the coming year, we know there is work to do and difficult choices to make. Tonight, I challenge each of you to find the courage to make these decisions for the sake of the next generation – not the next election,” Tomblin said. “It’s time to get to work.”
Lexi Browning can be contacted at [email protected]