Eastern Panhandle legislators are OK with much of Tomblin's address

January 12, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposal to lower the sales tax on food by 1 percent was surprising and welcomed Wednesday night by lawmakers in the Eastern Panhandle delegation in the Legislature.

In his State of the State address, Tomblin proposed to lower the tax to 2 percent and said he intended to eliminate it entirely in the next few years.

"I think that's wonderful," said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, saying the proposed 1 percent reduction was the "biggest surprise" in Tomblin's remarks.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said Republicans in the Legislature have long advocated for the complete elimination of the food tax, but credited Tomblin's proposal as "another step in that direction."

State Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, said he will be interested to see how the governor's budget is balanced considering the food tax reduction, along with the governor's commitments to no tax or fee increases and no infusion of federal stimulus money or employee furloughs.  

The governor also has proposed a one-time $800 salary enhancement for teachers and a "similar" one-time enhancement for school service personnel and state employees.

"He knows that budget," said Unger, referring to Tomblin's past experience in the state Senate as Finance Committee chairman and as Senate president.

For being in office for little more than two months, Unger said Tomblin's apparent grasp of the issues facing the state was "very impressive."

"I'm very optimistic in what he can do down the road," Unger said.

While Tomblin has adopted former Gov. Joe Manchin's approach to leading the state, Unger said he may be even more cautious than his predecessor on some issues, citing the governor's one-time salary enhancement proposal for teachers.

Tomblin presented few specifics on what he would do to improve the business climate to spur job creation, but Overington said he was impressed with the initial focus of the governor's remarks on the issue as it relates to the role of the private sector in economic development.

Del. Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, said the pro-business tone of Tomblin's speech wasn't surprising given the governor's track record as a pro-business, fiscal conservative in the State senate.

The House Education Committee's minority chair said teachers might not be entirely happy with Tomblin's proposal that they receive a one-time $800 enhancement, but Duke agrees that it is the fiscally responsible approach.

Doyle agreed.

"We can't afford to do anything more than that," said Doyle, a member of the House Finance Committee.

Because they had not actually seen Tomblin's budget proposals, neither could say whether the "similar one-time salary enhancement" the governor is proposing for state employees and school service personnel also is $800.

Overington said he was pleased that the governor committed to no tax or fee increases and said Tomblin's speech touched on pro-business positions that come straight from the Republican "playbook."

Overington said he would have liked to have heard Tomblin lend support to reforming the homestead exemption to give seniors property tax relief and Duke noted the governor made no specific mention of the state's large public employee benefit liability, judicial reform or the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

Duke also noted Tomblin didn't mention the elimination of a business tax on equipment or repeal of a state-level cap and trade bill recently adopted.

"It wasn't reforms with a capital R, it was reforms with a small R," Duke said.

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