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Manchin gives third State of the State address

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    Manchin gives third State of the State address Charleston Gazette - Charleston,WV,USA Phil Kabler January 10, 2007 In his third State of the State address,
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      Manchin gives third State of the State address
      Charleston Gazette - Charleston,WV,USA
      Phil Kabler
      January 10, 2007

      In his third State of the State address, Gov. Joe Manchin called for pay raises for teachers and state employees, continued initiatives for coal mine and workplace safety, new workforce education programs, and another round of tax cuts.

      Manchin's overall theme in the 49-minute address Wednesday to a joint session of the Legislature was to build on the accomplishments of the past year, which he described as a year of tragedies and triumphs.

      "It certainly has been a challenging year for West Virginia, but it has been a productive and encouraging one as well," he said.

      Reiterating accomplishments of his first two years in office -- from privatization of Workers' Compensation to an ongoing rollback of the sales tax on food -- Manchin said all that was done, "while staying focused on our two biggest challenges: job creation and managing our state's long-term debt."

      Harkening back to his 2006 address, just days after the Sago Mine disaster, Manchin devoted much of his 2007 speech to mine and job safety initiatives.

      That includes directing an additional $4 million to the Office of Miners' Health, Safety and Training for additional safety inspectors and safety instructors, and introducing legislation to give the director expanded authority to shut down mines with multiple, repeat safety violations.

      Pledging not to take any workplace safety for granted, Manchin outlined a number of additional job safety initiatives, including proposing a drug-testing requirement for all new executive branch employees.

      As hundreds of teachers and school service workers rallied nearby in the Capitol rotunda, Manchin proposed 2.5 percent across-the-board pay raises for teachers, school service personnel and public employees.

      "We are taking steps to ensure that no full-time teacher in West Virginia will make less than $30,000 a year, including our starting teachers," Manchin said.

      Manchin also pledged $10 million for a School Access Safety matching grant program -- a program intended to fund security upgrades for schools, with the ultimate goal of making it impossible for unauthorized persons to enter schools.

      Continuing a measured phase-in of tax modernization plans, Manchin proposed a tax credit to offset the automobile privilege tax, which drivers who move to West Virginia must pay.

      He said cited that tax -- sometimes called the "welcome, stranger tax" -- as one of several elements of the old tax system that "only serve as nuisances" to businesses and individuals.

      Manchin also devoted a lengthy portion of his speech to assuring that West Virginia can provide an educated workforce to attract additional businesses to the state.

      "Workers in today's economy must have the advanced thinking, language and reasoning skills to solve problems and adapt to changing conditions," said Manchin, who announced the creation of the Governor's Workforce Planning Council to address state workforce education needs.

      During his address, Manchin did not mention an issue expected to be a focal point of the 2007 regular session: legalization of casino-style table games at the state's four racetracks.

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