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Underwood supports home rule

October 17, 2000

Underwood supports home rule



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - If reelected, Gov. Cecil Underwood said during a question and answer session here Tuesday night that he would support home rule legislation to help areas like the Eastern Panhandle deal with growth.

But Underwood cautioned that if local officials "get out of line" with taxes, they will likely pay the price at election time.

County officials, especially those in Jefferson County, have been stressing the need for more home rule to deal with population growth. Specifically, the Jefferson County Commissioners have been considering charging impact fees to developers to pay for increased services required by growth.

But before they can pass the fees, the Commissioners say there needs to be changes in the state Local Powers Act to make implementation of the fees easier.

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Underwood made his comments while fielding questions from the local media and the public at the Apollo Theater.

Underwood, who will face Democratic candidate Bob Wise in the Nov. 7 general election, defended his economic growth efforts, described how his administration corrected problems from past administrations, touted the state's educational progress and shared his vision for a new economy in the state.

The state has been criticized recently for having an economy that has lagged behind the nation's, but Underwood said the state has made great progress in bringing high-paying jobs to the state.

He specifically mentioned a new industrial park in Mingo County that is attracting wood industries and the Quad-Graphics plant in Berkeley County, which recently won a major contract to print National Geographic magazine.

"Those are not hamburger-flipping jobs," Underwood said.

Underwood, the oldest serving governor in the state, said he was not planning to run for office again. But Underwood said he later changed his mind because he believes the state needs a governor with experience as it moves into a new century.

"Obviously, I was not seeking the governor's office as a stepping stone to something else. I ran because I thought there was a need out there ... to do something for the state."

Underwood said when he took office, the Workman's Compensation fund had a $2.2 billion debt. The governor said he was able to reduce the debt by $260 million.

There was also a $4 billion debt in the teacher's retirement program, and state officials agreed to issue bonds to reduce the debt, Underwood said.

Underwood said he faced a "bloated bureaucracy" when he arrived in office, and reduced the state highways office by 10 percent while expanding transportation projects.

"In a relative sense, it was a mess, but we've corrected a great amount of that," Underwood told the approximately 50 people in attendance.

While high schools and colleges have not reached as high of a mark, the state has been ranked as high as fourth in the nation for its use of computers at the elementary school level, Underwood said.

The college going rate has increased from 46 percent to 55 percent, Underwood said.

To spark new economic opportunities in the state, Underwood said he wants institutions like West Virginia University to concentrate on finding new ways to increase timber production in the state. Timber is a renewable resource that can serve the state forever, he said.

Underwood would not say whether he supports a cap on slot machines at the state's four racetracks, but said he does not support expanded gambling.

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