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After Bob Wise, then what?

October 28, 2003

For any other governor, the record of achievement accumulated by West Virginia's Bob Wise would provide a strong platform on which to seek re-election.

His administration legalized "gray" video-lottery machines to get new revenue for the state. It also create a new scholarship program and dealt with medical malpractice.

But Wise's decision to try to rebuild his damaged marriage instead of running again has made him a lame duck in his last year in office.

Wise announced he would not run again in August, after it became clear his affair with another woman would become a re-election issue. But just because Wise is stepping down doesn't mean there aren't tough issues that need additional attention.

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The top one has to be the state's budget. The Charleston bureau of The Associated Press quoted Wise as saying that he would deal with a $120 million revenue shortfall by asking state agencies to cut their budgets again, this time by 9 percent.

The state's revenue problems have already forced revisions in the PROMISE scholarship program, which provides tuition help for B-average high school students who get acceptable ACT scores.

That program must be preserved, because the state's only hope for long-term prosperity is a more educated work force.

And one of Wise's top achievements, passage of a malpractice insurance bill, will need more attention, to make sure the physician-run agency that was set up is adequately funded.

The next governor will also have to try again to lower the state's acceptable blood-alcohol level for drivers to .08. Not doing that in the past legislative session cost West Virginia $3 million, Wise said, adding that the revenue loss might rise to $10 million if there's no action soon.

Then there's the all-terrain safety-vehicle issue. Lawmakers have rejected bills to improve safety for seven years, though the state led the U.S. in ATV deaths during that time. As of this past September, 11 had died statewide in 2003, including four under age 17.

And then there's insurance fraud, which insurance companies say causes them to raise rates and even stop offering coverage. The state needs a separate fraud unit and tougher penalties for those who commit this crime.

In short, Wise may be stepping down, but instead of questioning the governor's morals, would-be successors will have to offer some real solutions.

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