Gubernatorial candidates tell contradicting tales of state
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The upcoming Oct. 4 gubernatorial election has turned into a tale of two West Virginias.
In acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's West Virginia, the state is on the right track and poised for progress after two decades of sound fiscal policies that now set the state apart from much of the rest of the country.
In Morgantown businessman Bill Maloney's West Virginia, the state is on the wrong track and has to find a way to dig itself out of last place in business and economic ratings.
With 27 days left until Election Day, the race to be the next governor of West Virginia could hinge upon which of those pictures voters agree with.
The two were interviewed by the Daily Mail editorial board Tuesday.
Tomblin, the Democratic Party nominee who has served in the state Legislature for 36 years, said policies he helped craft have turned the tide in the state.
"We have been able to move this state in the right direction over the last several years, especially in the light of the national economy and the recession," he said.
Tomblin said many other states are now dealing with the kinds of problems West Virginia dealt with in the 1980s, when poor fiscal management drove the state to the verge of bankruptcy.
He said state officials made tough decisions then that are now reaping benefits, leading to improvements in the state's credit rating and setting the stage for cuts to business and sales taxes.
"We've been able to turn our state around and put it on a positive path," Tomblin said.
But Republican nominee Bill Maloney sees things differently.
"I don't see a rosy picture," he said.
Maloney pointed to things like the state's shrinking and aging labor force and statistics like 49th in per capita income and 46th place in a recent CNBC survey of state business climates.
He said the state's legal climate and tax structure are driving away business investment. In turn, people are leaving the state.
But Tomblin said those statistics don't capture the recent progress the state has made.
"There are a lot of good things, and I think if those same reports would ask West Virginia business CEOs why they're here or why they're expanding, I think you'd get a different picture," he said.
Tomblin said while per capita income is low, both the cost of living and cost of doing business are also very low in the state.
He also pointed to companies like Macy's and Amazon.com that have recently decided to open facilities in the state, as well as the potential to get not one but two natural gas "cracker" facilities, as they're called.
He said development could create thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector, which has suffered heavy losses in recent decades.
"I'll bust my butt every single day to make sure we do get those back," he said.
"I think West Virginia is moving in the right direction, and I want to continue to move it in that direction," he said.
But Maloney said the special tax deals the state has made with companies like Macy's benefit only a select few companies. He said the system as a whole needs to be changed.
"We missed the Reagan Revolution in West Virginia," he said, referring to former President Ronald Reagan's economic agenda. "We've got to go back to those basic principles."
That includes reducing regulations on businesses and simplifying the tax code. But he said his No. 1 priority would be legal reform.
It's a position where he and Tomblin found common ground.
Both men said they favor creating an intermediate court of appeals to allow for an automatic right of appeal for circuit court decisions.
Tomblin said the only stumbling block with lawmakers was how to fund the new court system, and he was hopeful they could work that out.
"I'd be happy to work with the Legislature on that to see what we can do," he said. "But it's very clear in my opinion that you should have a right to appeal."
Maloney went further, saying he would call a special session to force the issue this year.
"That is something we need very badly, and I think something everyone will agree that we need to move on, and I'll take the lead," Maloney said.
Maloney faulted Tomblin for not showing leadership on creation of single-member districts in the House of Delegates.
Tomblin, who signed the House redistricting legislation last Friday, said that while he favored the creation of single-delegate districts, the state Constitution assigns the task of redistricting to the Legislature.
But Maloney said the governor should take a stronger position when working with lawmakers.
"We need leadership on Marcellus shale and an intermediate court," he said. "These aren't legislative things; these are things the governor should take the bully pulpit on and do something about."
Tomblin said, "There are other things out there that the governor has to get involved in, just as I did on sales tax with food," referring to the passage of the recent plan to eliminate the state's food sales tax over the next couple of years.
"But when it comes to redistricting the Legislature, that is a legislative priority," he said.
Other highlights from the editorial board meeting:
While Tomblin said he disagreed with the law's mandate that people buy health insurance, he said he didn't think a lawsuit was the right course of action.
"Filing a lawsuit simply is not going to change that federal law; it's going to take an act of Congress to change the provisions of the bill," he said.
"We're looking at all angles right now to try to figure out a solution on it," Tomblin said.
He said he supports using a $95 million general revenue stream currently devoted to paying off the workers' compensation debt for OPEB once the old debt is paid off.
Maloney said that $95 million shouldn't be kept in the state budget once the workers' compensation debt is paid off. He said the state should find other ways to wring the funding from the budget.
"There's enough money to pay down OPEB," he said. "We've just got to just get forensic accountants in there, run it like a business like I ran my businesses, and look at everything and don't waste money."
Tomblin said he's a "big grill man" who likes to fix steak, chicken and ribs. However, he said he hasn't been able to fire up the grill at the Governor's Mansion this year.
Maloney said he loves grilling salmon at his house overlooking Cheat Lake. However, he said he got to try a new recipe Monday evening - grilled dove.
Maloney, who said he loves bird hunting, shot some doves on a recent bird hunt in the Northern Panhandle town of Chester.
He said he brought the fowl home, de-feathered it and cooked the breasts coated in olive oil on the grill.
"I tell you they were good," Maloney said.
In addition to Tomblin and Maloney, other candidates include Mountain Party nominee Bob Henry Baber, independent Mason County resident Marla Ingles, and Harry Bertram, an American Third Position Party candidate from Monongalia County. They have been invited to a separate session with the Daily Mail editorial board.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5148.